Special Election – Vote!

On Tuesday, February 6, 2018, voters within the Waukee Community School District will have an opportunity to cast their ballots for the $117 million bond referendum for the second high school, as well as for improvements to the current high school. If passed, the planned opening of the second high school would occur in the fall of 2021.

Referendum committee members and I have enjoyed the opportunity to share presentations with nearly 40 different groups within the community. This has included updates on enrollment, planning for a second high school, the upcoming bond referendum and the Comprehensive Boundary Process.  

The most important part of the message shared with stakeholders is that our students (your children) will have more academic, curricular and extracurricular opportunities with a second high school.   

Key facts highlighted during these presentations include:

  • 2017-18 Enrollment in grades 10-12 = 1,915 students
  • 2021-22 Projected Enrollment in grades 10-12 = 2,580 students
  • The bond referendum will have NO IMPACT ON TAX RATES     

There are three key reasons why this bond referendum will not impact the district’s portion of your current tax rate.

  1. The district has been planning for this referendum for a few years. We’ve been working to pay off debt early to increase our ability to bond as well as save taxpayer dollars. For example, to date, Waukee Community School District has saved taxpayers over $13 million.
  2. The bond referendum for the $117 million high school is a 20-year bond against future property valuations. Our current school tax rate is $17.85 per $1000 of taxable valuation on a home within our district. The debt service portion of the current tax rate is already at the maximum of $4.05. As a result, the referendum will not impact your tax rate.
  3. We are fortunate to have increasing property valuations within our school district boundaries.

While talking to stakeholders I have also shared the district’s commitment to maintaining fiscal integrity with taxpayer funds. In addition to oversight from the board, the district has internal controls in place to ensure the person who inputs the invoice for payment is different from the person who issues the check. There is always more than one person overseeing the payment process. An FAQ about construction oversight for the second high project is available online at 2ndHS.waukeeschools.org.

I encourage everyone to share the above information . . . vote . . . and then encourage others to vote. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and voters can go to either of the polling locations listed below:

Waukee District Administration Office
560 SE University Avenue, Waukee, Iowa

St Francis of Assisi Church
7075 Ashworth Road, West Des Moines, Iowa

I hope this information is helpful and answers questions you may have about the upcoming vote.  Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns, but please be sure to vote on February 6!


Cindi McDonald  

Focus on Excellence – Building for the Future

As we near the end of 2017 I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the past calendar year for Waukee Community School District.

The cities of Waukee, Urbandale, West Des Moines and Clive continue to grow rapidly. Since last spring we are fortunate to have welcomed nearly 600 new students and 65 new staff to the district.  

We continue to manage the growth on a daily basis while keeping ‘the main thing the main thing’ and our focus on serving students.

While that may sound like a broken record to those of you with whom I have regular contact, it is critical that we keep the focus on serving students academically, curricularly and extracurricularly.

If you’ve lived in the Waukee Community School District for any period of time, you know that we must pay a great deal of attention to the growth in student enrollment that has been steady over the past 22+ years. The district updates its own projections annually and also contracts with an outside vendor for statistical modeling and projections.

We also are provided annual projections from the Iowa Department of Education. Between those three data sources we’ve had very reliable information that has helped us stay in front of the growth with facilities and staffing. We use the projections to predict when new facilities need to be added.

We are at that point once again. The Board of Education is holding a special election on February 6, 2018. Voters will be asked if the district should borrow  $117 million in general obligation bonds to build a second high school and make improvements to the current high school.

Our projections indicate that without an additional high school there will not be enough classroom space in 2021 for the 2,400 students in grades 10-12.

Passage of this $117 million bond referendum will allow the district to construct a second high school to open the fall of 2021, located ½ mile north of Hickman road on R22.

Visit the district’s #2ndHS website for graphics and additional information.

Don’t forget to vote February 6!

Focus on Excellence –Thankful

It’s the time of year where reminders of our blessings seem to be all around us. I am thankful for many things and three, in particular, I’d like to share with you.

First of all, I am thankful for the collective commitment shared by all staff to support students each and every day. The culture in Waukee Community School District is to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help students learn and grow. It’s part of the reason our graduation rate is 99.26%. #kidswin

Second, I am thankful for the partnership we have with our parents, students and communities. Not to sound cliche, but it truly does ‘take a village’ to raise our children and support their goals and dreams for the future.

Third, I am thankful for facts. Yes, facts. As the superintendent of a rapidly growing district, I am asked a lot of questions. As we prepare to open Radiant Elementary, engage in a planning process for the second high school, ask the community to vote on a bond referendum and begin the comprehensive boundary process, it is essential we keep our community informed with the facts. Here are a few for quick reference:

Radiant Elementary School

Fact: Radiant Elementary, located at 5050 170th Street in Urbandale, is under construction and scheduled to open for the 2019-20 school year.

Fact: The building is planned for 750 students and will serve PK-5 students.

Second High School

Fact: Due to increased growth in enrollment, the district is planning for a second high school.

Fact: The Waukee Board of Education approved the schematic design for the second high school in September 2017.

Fact: Staff members are currently engaged in a design and development planning process.

Fact: The school is scheduled to open the fall of the 2021-22 school year.
For up to date information or questions about this project, visit 2ndhs.waukeeschools.org

Bond Referendum

Fact: Voters in Waukee Community School District will have an opportunity to vote for a bond referendum on Feb. 6, 2018 to fund the construction of a second high school.

Fact: The referendum requires a 60% approval in order to pass.

Fact: There will be several public forums offered to the community in January to learn more about the project.

Fact: The referendum will not cause a change in property tax rates.

Fact:: Upon receiving the cost opinion updated information will be shared on our second high school website.

Comprehensive Boundary Process

Fact: The first Boundary Committee meeting is scheduled for January 30, 2018. The members of the committee are charged with taking a recommendation to the Waukee Board of Education for boundary changes in December 2018.

Fact:: This is the sixth time that elementary attendance boundaries have been adjusted since Waukee began growing. Previous changes occurred in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2015. The last time the boundaries were adjusted for 6-9 was in 2015. This will be the first time in the history of Waukee a boundary change will impact students in grades 10-12.

Fact: The public will have an opportunity for input in the spring of 2018 and the fall of 2018.

Fact: The demographers overall accuracy rate for enrollment projections is 97-98%. Even the best prognosticators cannot predict with 100% certainty where development and growth will occur…only time reveals, and as a district, we then must adjust.

Fact:  Boundary Committee meetings are meetings held in public. Agendas and minutes of these meetings will be available on the district website. In addition, families will receive reminders prior to the committee meetings.

Fact: Timeline and Comprehensive Boundary Process

This will be a defining moment in the future of the district. It will be a challenging task but one I know the district will embrace as we plan for our future! Please submit any questions about the above topics online.

Focus on Excellence – Planning for Rapid Growth

We are a little over three weeks into the 2017-18 school year. Thanks to the efforts of every single employee and our students and families we’ve enjoyed an extremely smooth start to the school year. Routines have been established, students are engaged in meaningful learning opportunities, and the weather has been outstanding!

Despite the challenges we face as a growing school district, including the ever-increasing expectations of the public and the decreased funding support from the state, Waukee Community School District (WCSD) continues to thrive. The quality of the educational experience provided to our students continues to be top-notch.

Students continue to excel, staff members have the necessary resources and the learning environment is student-centered. Student achievement data across all grade levels is high and trending upward for several years in a row. Teachers continue to differentiate instruction to ensure students have a strong foundation and are provided opportunities to extend their learning. In addition, staff members work to provide opportunities for students to perform and compete outside the classroom. These successes are, in part, due to the continued support from our parents and communities and a laser-like focus on the part of our teachers on doing what is best for students.

You may have heard the district continues to grow! The district has experienced enrollment growth for the past 26 consecutive years. Last year we grew by 574 students and this year we estimate we will grow by nearly 600 students. The official number will be available in October.

Keep in mind that we don’t receive any state funding for those nearly 600 new students during the current school year. The way the Iowa school funding formula works means that funding for new students to a district always lags by one year. That’s a challenge…we grew by more than the total PK-12 enrollment for 120+ school districts in the state of Iowa last year. So in essence, we’re educating the equivalent of the enrollment for some entire districts in Iowa with NO MONEY.

We don’t dwell on the growth, but little things we do each day help us plan for it. It’s part of our culture, and we’ve taken great pride in knowing that despite the growth our student achievement, data is high and has been on an upward trend. We’re also very proud of the fact that we have been able to handle the facility challenges that come with the growth.

Would we like more parking at the high school? Yes, and we have money allocated in our five-year plan for that.

Would we like to be able to accommodate all our new elementary students without ever having to change elementary attendance boundaries? Yes, but that’s not a realistic expectation.

Would we like to establish more bus routes? Yes, but each bus route in our district currently costs over $45,000 to operate for a school year, so we try to be as efficient as possible when adding additional routes.

The fact is, there will always be needs in a district like WCSD. We can’t meet all those needs at once. Growth is not a problem, it’s a challenge and one that our district will continue to meet head-on through diligent planning and partnerships with our parents and communities. Thank you for your support of our schools, and thank you for the ongoing partnership in pursuit of the best education for our students.

Because rapid growth is unique to WCSD (and a few other districts in the state) we often share information related to that growth and the impact on our community. However, it’s important to note we will continue to see a strong focus on our core business and main mission, the education of the students entrusted to us.

Throughout the school year, we plan on providing you with updates on student achievement data, various student accomplishments, teacher professional development and other items that are a part of our energetic and dynamic school district. Students are our first priority!

Just recently we received our ACT test results from the 2016-17 school year. Our overall composite score was 23.6. That composite average compares with the state average of 21.9 and a national average of 21. Test scores are just one measure of our students’ successes. As we move forward into the 2017-18 school year, also watch for articles featuring our elementary programs, visual and performing arts, middle school and high school academic programs and athletics.

New Board Members Elected

The local board of education is a uniquely American institution that has made the public schools flexible and responsive to the needs of the local communities. The school board represents a continuing commitment to local citizen decision-making in education.

Congratulations to the following incumbents who were re-elected on September 12:
David Cunningham resident of Clive, four-year term
Wendy Liskey, resident of West Des Moines, four-year term
Jerry Ripperger, resident of West Des Moines, two-year term
Mary Scheve, resident of Clive, four-year term

Also, congratulations to newly elected board member Lori Lyon. Lori is a resident of Clive elected for a four-year term.

Board members are locally elected, non-salaried, public officials. Honor, respect and satisfaction are the rewards for helping the school district meet the educational needs of students and our communities. Take time to thank them for the enormous amount of volunteer time and commitment they contribute to making Waukee Community School District the great place it is.

Please take a special moment to thank retiring school board member Pat Nehls for his service to the students and communities of WCSD for the past four years!

Focus on Excellence – Gearing Up for A Great Year!

Welcome to the 2017-18 school year! I am excited to begin my first full year as superintendent of schools in Waukee. I consider it a privilege to be able to serve the students, staff and families of our district. This year we will serve somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,400 students with a senior class of 612 and third grade at 903. We’re still enrolling kindergarten students but anticipate that number being in the 850 range. We continue to be the fastest growing school district in the state of Iowa, averaging 450 new students per year for the past several years. But enough about the growth. As we look forward to the new school year, many things remain the same for our district including a laser like focus on a strong educational program for our students, teachers committed to our children, providing opportunities for each and every student to develop their academic and leadership skills, and a community that supports our schools.

As in the past, there are many new and exciting things happening in Waukee Community School District (WCSD). We continue to research and study how best to prepare our students for success in the 21st Century. Offering rigorous and relevant learning opportunities for students in all grades continues to be a priority. In addition, we’ll continue to provide opportunities for all students to develop leadership skills in the classroom, through participation in activity and athletic programs, clubs, intramurals, within the community, and among their peers.  

Over the past several years we have developed meaningful partnerships with the business community. Those relationships continue to grow through our School-to-Work and APEX programs. In many ways, the school and community have set an example for the rest of the state in transforming the high school experience. I believe the APEX program represents what we provide in all grades PK-12: authentic and meaningful learning opportunities that include 1) complex communication, 2) collaboration, 3) creativity, 4) critical thinking, 5) flexibility & adaptability, and 5) productivity & accountability. These competencies and habits of mind are needed for future successes in careers, college and citizenry.

We have also identified a need to broaden our focus on the overall health and well being of students, staff and their families. Currently, students, staff and families are under an immense amount of pressure.  As Thomas Friedman states in his latest book, Thanks for Being Late, “our lives are speeding up at a dizzying rate”.  Because of these changes in society, the needs of students, staff and families are also changing. And, as a public school, we believe we have a responsibility to partner with the community to support students, staff and families during this time of change. As a school district, we have identified three areas to focus our efforts: academic health, social/emotional health, and physical health. Again, the importance of partnering with families and community to provide support is more important than ever.

Each year we add new staff. We also regularly add new facilities. Last year we opened Grant Ragan at the start of the year, and the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center (WILC), located at 295 SE Ashworth Road in Waukee, was opened at the start of the second semester. Currently, the APEX program is housed at the WILC. In the future, there may be additional uses for the building as we continue to grow. This past spring the operations and transportation facilities on 6th street in Waukee were completed.

With a district the size of WCSD, these are much needed buildings to support the overall operation of the district. There is a fueling station at the sight which is the result of a 28E agreement with the city of Waukee. This allows fuel to be purchased in bulk, thus saving the district thousands of dollars annually. In addition, a significant cost savings is realized with the facility no longer located 3 miles outside of the city limits. This eliminates thousands of ‘deadhead’ miles (12miles per bus per day). Construction on Radiant Elementary, located at 170th St in Urbandale, continues and will open the fall of 2019. Finally, construction to secure the west entry of the high school will be completed in August. All school buildings in the district now have secure entrances!  

School Board elections will be held September 12. There are five positions open in our district, with candidates vying for 4 four year terms and 1 two year term. Board members are locally elected, non-salaried public officials. Successful board members continue to look at research, best practice and innovation in education and have the courage to continue to move the district forward. Successful schools educate students to be prepared for the future…not the past. When times get tough, it’s natural to retreat to what we’ve done in the past. We simply can’t afford to do that when planning for the future of our children. Sometimes, that can be challenging or uncomfortable. There will be times when not everyone will agree, when parents will question the need for change and there will be times when it will appear that some educators are moving forward without all their ducks in a row. It’s incumbent upon us all to work together, to ask questions in a civil manner, and to realize that education in the 21st century needs to look much different than in the past. That includes instructional practice, curriculum and even how we report and communicate student progress to parents.

Please be patient these first few weeks of school as bus routes stabilize and driving patterns develop. Last year we transported 4,600 students on a daily basis.  That number will grow prior to the start of the next school year due to our growth.  We are excited to once again fill our hallways and classrooms with students eager to learn and grow!

So welcome to the new school year! Ask questions, seek answers, and above all actively support your schools and staff as we partner together to keep the Waukee Community School District a lighthouse district in the state of Iowa for high quality internationally competitive education!

Focus on Excellence – Preparing for a New School Year

Another exciting school year is just a little over seven weeks away! The Waukee Community School District continues to experience change and growth. We anticipate welcoming 10,000 students to our buildings August 23.

The summer months in the life of a school district are full of opportunities to hire new administrators, teachers and support staff. In addition, instructional supplies and materials are ordered, new equipment is installed, learning opportunities for staff and students are abundant, and the operations staff focuses on cleaning and annual maintenance tasks.

This summer, construction on Radiant Elementary, located at 5050 170th Street in Urbandale, has also begun. The expected completion date is spring of 2019. We will also be welcoming several new administrators to our district on July 1.

  • Joel Fey – Shuler Elementary Principal
  • Cameron Wendt – Assistant Principal at Grant Ragan and Waukee Elementary
  • Gerald  Hiesterman – Waukee High School Assistant Principal

Additional administrative assignment changes:

  • Matt Robie – Grant Ragan Principal
  • Mark Stallman – Prairieview Assistant Principal
  • Nate Zittergruen – Timberline Assistant Principal

Each summer the district also completes a plan to implement goals for the upcoming school year which were approved by the Board of Education in May. The goals are set with input from a variety of stakeholders including parents, teachers, and administrators. Teachers, principals, and district level administrators engage in dialogue on a regular basis regarding individual student progress, as well as building and district goals. The same holds true for the Board of Education and the superintendent of schools.

Board members are locally elected, non-salaried public officials. A school board operates as a corporate body. Individual members acting independently have no legal status or authority and cannot commit or bind the board by their actions. That can only be done with a majority vote of the board. The board takes official action only in public session unless the Iowa Code expressly permits action in closed session. There are four key roles of responsibility for the school board including: provide a shared vision, structure, accountability and advocacy for the community’s educational system.

On September 12, elections for school board will be held. Occasionally, I am asked, “What’s the role of a board member?” I have found sharing the The Iowa School Board Standards is helpful when describing the role and overall responsibilities of a school board member.

The Iowa School Board Standards are designed for use by local school boards as a common framework for excellence in school board governance. Based on best practice and research, the standards encourage boards to focus on student achievement as their primary responsibility. The framework includes six standards, along with competencies and key indicators that help clarify the work of high-performing school boards.

The Standards for Effective School Boards

In pursuit of world-class education that results in high achievement for all Iowa students, effective school boards:

  1. VISIONARY TEAM: Operate as a visionary governance team in partnership with the superintendent.
    • Vision and Planning – Develops a shared vision and plans for student achievement that reflects common values and core beliefs of the school community.
    • Operating Practices – Uses productive practices for its own operations and development.
    • Decision-Making – Ensures board decisions are based on data and deliberation.
    • Board/Superintendent Relations – Cultivates a strong relationship and partnership with the superintendent, based on clear expectations and accountability.
  1. STUDENT LEARNING: Provide effective leadership for quality instruction and high, equitable student learning.
    • Clear Expectations – Sets and communicates high expectations for student learning with clear goals and a focus on strengthening instruction.
    • Conditions for Success – Supports conditions for success through board actions and decisions.
    • Accountability – Holds the system accountable to reach student learning goals.
    • Collective Commitment – Builds the collective commitment of community and staff to achieve the student learning goals.
    • Team Learning – Learns together as a whole team to inform decision-making around the student learning goals.
  1. DISTRICT CULTURE: Foster a culture that enables excellence and innovation.
    • High-Quality Staff – Empowers the superintendent in hiring and developing the best employees available to meet the district’s goals.
    • Shared Leadership – Supports structures that develop instructional leadership and collaboration.
    • Staff Learning – Supports research-based staff professional development aligned with district goals.
    • Environment – Fosters a safe and secure environment for all students, staff, and visitors.
  1. POLICY & LEGAL: Lead through sound policy, ensuring transparent, ethical, legal operations.
    • Policy Leadership – Develops sound, written policy to clarify the board’s intent for district direction.
    • Legal – Ensures that board and district actions are in compliance with state and federal laws, appropriately addressing legal issues when they arise.
    • Ethics – Models ethical and legal behaviors which enable the board to stay focused on district goals.
    • Transparency – Establishes policies and ensures processes that are open and accountable.
  1. FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY: Sustain and enhance district resources through planning and fiduciary oversight.
    • Financial Health – Monitors and evaluates the financial health of the district, ensuring accountability and transparency in board decision-making.
    • Financial Forecasting – Ensures strong financial planning for the district.
    • Budgeting – Ensures the district budget aligns with district goals and multi-year plans.
    • Risk Oversight – Ensures sufficient risk management is in place to protect district resources.
    • Facilities –Ensures school facilities enhance and enrich student and staff learning.
  1. ADVOCACY: Advocate for public education and the needs of Iowa students.
    • Championing Local Governance & Public Education – Clearly articulates and advocates for the value of public education and the important role of local school governance.
    • Legislative Advocacy – Develops and strengthens on-going relationships with policymakers around improving student achievement and the needs of public education.
    • Community Engagement – Fosters engagement and collaboration with all stakeholders to ensure high and equitable student learning.

The board is responsible for the 1) broader planning, policymaking and appraisal of the school system, 2) approval or action upon matters required by law, and 3) hiring, supervising and evaluating the superintendent. It is the responsibility of the superintendent to manage the day-to-day operations of the school system and to oversee the implementation of board policy and board directives. It is the responsibility of the school board to hire and evaluate the superintendent.

The board hires and manages the superintendent by setting the goals for the district and for the superintendent. It is the superintendent’s responsibility to then create the strategies necessary to accomplish those goals. The board governs and the superintendent manages. This is an important distinction. It is the board’s job to challenge him/her when it is appropriate and to support him/her when appropriate. The success of Waukee Community School District and any school district is dependent upon the Board of Education, superintendent, teachers, administrative staff and our parents. It is a team effort.

I hope you find time to enjoy summer and spend time with those you care about. We look forward to maintaining and strengthening the partnership we enjoy with our families and community in the upcoming months. Your support of the staff and the district are a major part of what makes our district a lighthouse for the state of Iowa.

Focus on Excellence – Finish Strong!

May is upon us and we have just under 20 days of school remaining in the 2016-17 school year.  When I served as building principal, our mantra during the month of May was “finish strong”!  Each and every day throughout the year, our administrators, teachers, support staff, nutrition, and operations departments give 110% to be sure your children receive the best educational experience possible.  We are thankful you, as parents, also support the efforts to finish strong ensuring that students come to school every day ready to learn through May 26.

May is also a month of ‘thank yous’ and ‘celebrations.’  May 8-12 is National Teacher Appreciation Week with Tuesday, May 9 designated as National Teacher Day.  Whether it’s a handwritten note, a quick email, or a brief conversation, please take a minute to thank your child’s teachers for being a part of their educational journey.  Research supports the biggest effect on student achievement is the teacher in the classroom.  We will continue to work to hire the very best and support their continued professional growth.

In addition to teacher appreciation week, May is also School Board Recognition Month. We are fortunate the members of the Waukee Board of Education take their roles seriously.  Each month they volunteer their time to attend meetings, respond to emails and phone calls, and attend many of the events throughout the district. In addition, they hold the superintendent, administration, and staff accountable.  We are truly blessed to have dedicated individuals who keep the focus on serving and meeting the needs of each and every student. Our Board continues to go ‘the extra mile’ to ensure that 1) our students are receiving a quality educational experience, 2) facilities are in place to support learning, and 3) advocate for students throughout the year.  Thank you to President Susan Bunz, Vice-President Dave Cunningham, Past President Mary Scheve, Wendy Liskey, Ethan Huisman, Pat Nehls, and Jerry Ripperger.

Also, this month is Senior award night which is scheduled for May 17 in the WHS Auditorium. May 22 is the Waukee High School Commencement at 7:00 p.m. at the Knapp Center on the Drake University campus. Please join us in celebrating and congratulating our senior class on this fine accomplishment!

Speaking of celebrations, we recently were notified that Waukee has one of the highest graduation rates in the state of Iowa!!! Congratulations to our students, their families, staff, community, and members of the Waukee Board of Education for nurturing a culture focused on supporting students.

Focus on Excellence – Budget Update

In April of each year the Board of Education approves the Budget for the next fiscal year. The budget setting process the Board goes through is dictated and set in Iowa Code. The last several years have been extremely challenging for setting school budgets. The legislative process has been frustrating and has complicated all school districts’ abilities to plan for the future.

By code, the legislature is required to set school districts’ allowable growth (now called supplemental state aid – SSA) within the first 30 days of the legislative session for the following school year (a year in advance) so that districts can budget and plan in advance.  Last year the legislature did not set the amount required by law, further complicating the process and forcing districts to basically guess what their budgets might be for the 2017-18 school year.  They have also missed their statutory requirement for FY19 now by nearly 3 months.  

School districts are required to certify their budgets by April 15 on an annual basis. During these challenging budget times, Waukee School District has identified priorities for reallocation of funds when funds are not adequate. This year, we have stayed disciplined in our budgeting process, and strategically dipped into our cash reserves. We are able to do that because the Waukee Board of Education has insisted throughout the past 12 years that the district plan and think long-term to tend to the financial health of the district.  In that effort, we have worked to maintain sufficient reserves to sustain the district when state funding is less than anticipated, as well as when growth creates a need to draw on reserves.

The commitment to funding those reserves has been a major factor in our ability to proceed with minimal cuts and continue to offer quality educational programs while receiving inadequate funding. On April 10, 2017, the school board certified the budget for the 2017-18 academic year (FY18). We will be adding teaching staff (around 27 new positions) to meet the needs of our growth and the nearly 10,250 students we anticipate serving in the fall of  2017. The challenge of keeping class sizes manageable strains our budget.

The state foundation aid formula, set by the state legislature, calculates total spending authority for schools. It is up to the school board to determine how the total spending authority will actually be used or spent. The school tax levy rate for the 2017-18 school year will increase slightly from the current school year rate of $17.65 We will publish it ‘high’ due to the legislative inaction.

Once the rate is certified, it can’t be raised but it can be lowered. Our local school tax rate peaked 12 years ago at $17.89. The following three years it dropped over $1.20. Contrary to popular belief, local school boards have limited control over components of the total school tax rate. The main portion of the rate is governed primarily by the school finance formula and actions taken by the legislature. The levy is broken out into three main components.

The general fund levy rate is what we operate the district with on a day-to-day basis. It’s where all the salaries, benefits, supplies, utilities, etc. are charged. The physical plant and equipment levy ($1.67): 33¢ of that levy pays for physical school maintenance, while $1.34 is used for new facility construction. We will levy $4.05 of the total levy rate for debt service to pay for the principal and interest on the bonds we have issued for new school construction. The fact that our tax rate has remained relatively stable after dropping considerably over a three-year period speaks to the great job our board of education has done in overseeing and managing district finances over time. They take a long-term approach, and continue to hold administration accountable for planning for the future.

As a state, we need to let our legislators know that we want education to continue to be a top priority in Iowa. Right now the message schools are receiving via legislative action is that education is NOT a priority for this legislature.  Iowa ranks 35th in the nation in per-pupil funding. We continued to steadily decline over the past 11 years as a state in our ranking in that regard.  Another looming challenge for all districts in the state of Iowa is a teacher shortage.  

Recruitment and retention are challenges for schools of all sizes.  Perhaps that is due to, not only lack of funding, but the continued negative press we’ve witnessed over the past several years. We continue to hear from our legislative leaders that the state cannot afford to fund schools at a higher level than the suggested 1.11% increase. Again, it is a matter of priorities. The legislature passed a commercial and industrial property tax relief measure a little over two years ago that totals over $260 million. That commitment on the part of the state has had a significant negative impact on the overall state budget and the ability to fund existing programs, as the state must now backfill those taxes to local taxing bodies like schools and municipalities. You, the residential taxpayer, did not receive any of that property tax relief. In fact, there is a strong likelihood that over the next several years residential taxpayers will be burdened with additional taxes so the state is able to fund the break they authorized for commercial and industrial property.  

Another important point to remember, state funding for schools has nothing to do with funding for facilities. On more than one occasion, we’ve been asked,  “If funding is short, how can you afford to build additional schools or add on to current facilities?”  The funding set by the legislature is what we use to operate our schools – our general fund.  This is the money used to pay salaries and benefits, buy books, computers, supplies, and pay utilities otherwise known as the day-to-day operations of the district. The funding for new facilities is a completely different revenue stream and cannot be used to support everyday instruction. We aren’t able to ‘mix’ those funding streams.

Your board of education serves as stewards of the district. The definition of steward is someone managing property or other affairs for someone else. When public monies are involved, it is especially important that the public is confident that those monies are being spent as intended.  We are proud of the way our district finances have been managed and the conservative values brought to the budgeting process, while making sure our students have the finest educational opportunities available.  Also worth noting, the continued lack of funding for schools at the state level will have negative impacts on the Waukee schools. We will likely need to, once again, look at either program reductions or delay the expansion of current programs at the rate we had hoped for in order to stay on a sound financial footing.  

Focus on Excellence – Providing an Outstanding Educational Experience for All

It’s a busy time for Waukee Community School District (WCSD). As many winter sports finish state tournament competitions, spring sports have already begun.

January-March also provides an opportunity for families to attend parent-teacher conferences.  While communication is ongoing throughout the school year, attending conferences provides you an additional opportunity to communicate with educators to gain a more in-depth understanding of your child’s performance on a day-to-day basis.

Students have completed the Iowa Assessments during the past month. Results will be shared with parents before the end of the school year.  This past year the federal government reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. No Child Left Behind has been replaced by Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  While the oversight by the federal government has slightly decreased, the state of Iowa is still required to identify, administer and collect data around a state assessment.  

Based on what we know today, the Iowa Assessments will continue to be the designated test for at least one more years depending on what course of action the Iowa legislature chooses. Last spring, districts were led to believe the Iowa Assessments would be replaced by the Smarter Balanced Assessments which are more closely aligned with the required curriculum taught in our schools. The legislature appears to be rethinking this decision.

Other significant school-related legislation in the works as of this writing:  Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code has undergone significant changes for non-public safety government employees, SSA (supplemental state aid) has been set for next year at 1.1%, Educational Savings Account (vouchers) and Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) are also topics being discussed.

Chapter 20, also referred to as collective bargaining, will impact the district during the next several months as we work with staff to determine next steps.  The current agreement runs through June of 2018.  

Much of what is in the current contract will be moved to policy and handbooks.  As I’ve shared with staff, we will continue to work together to provide a work environment in WCSD where teachers choose to teach and students achieve at high levels.  

We have worked together for many years to ‘Create Waukee’ and will continue to provide an outstanding educational experience for all.  

Iowa Code Chapter 20 Collective Bargaining Law Update:

The following presentation was presented at the February 27, 2017, WCSD board meeting.

Focus on Excellence – Overall Health and Well Being of Students, Staff and Their Families

As an undergraduate student in education at UNI, one of my professors shared her personal philosophy related to social/emotional needs of students: “learners don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.”  All learners (young and old) thrive and learn at high levels when a safe and orderly environment is established and maintained.  There’s been significant research on how the brain functions when children and adults are in an emotionally safe environment.

The mission statement for Waukee Community School District is, “Dedicated to optimizing individual learning and potential for success in a global community.” In order to fulfill the mission of the district, administrators identified three primary areas of focus to ensure health and safety for all students, staff and their families:

  • Academic health
  • Social/emotional health
  • Physical health and safety

All staff members use the Framework for Meeting the Needs of All Students to ensure academic needs are met for all learners.  To support the framework, staff members are a part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC).  The PLC engages in dialogue around the following questions when planning for student learning opportunities:

  • What do we expect students to learn (curriculum)?
  • How will we know they are learning (assessment)?
  • How will we respond if they already know or don’t learn (intervention/support)?

When teachers identify unmet student needs, they work closely with building administrators, instructional coaches and colleagues to determine what additional materials, programming and/or staff should be considered by the district to meet those needs.

Also, in the area of social/emotional health are efforts to support any student, staff member, and any family members who may be in need of extra support at various time during their school career.  Waukee staff, student and families can access additional support through EAP and EFR.  More information can be found on the district website or through building counselors.

Finally, physical safety is a priority for our district as a part of our focus on overall health and well-being. Prior to the start of the 2017-18 school year, entrances in all buildings will be secured.  After the start of the school day, all doors are locked with the exception of the front entrance.  The front entrance for each building will force visitors to go through the office where they are asked to show photo identification and sign in.  In addition, the district Readiness, Response, and Recovery Plan was thoroughly reviewed and updated in the past 6 months.  While we aren’t able to share the specifics of the safety plan with the public (for obvious reasons), I can assure you we have significantly improved our training and preparedness across the district.  We have worked closely with local, county and state fire, emergency and law enforcement officials as a part of the updates and improved communication. Early in my educational career, preparedness meant fire and tornado drills or teaching bicycle, train, and fire safety.  As a result of events of the past 20 years expectations for providing an environment that is physically and emotionally safe are now a primary focus for all school districts.  I can assure you we will continue to focus on the overall health and well being for students, staff, and families as the district continues to grow.