Reason #3 - The need for binding arbitration for legislators

In trying to understand the lack of commitment to public education in Iowa, my August blog used the “5 Whys” process to analyze the lack of commitment.

The five main reasons that were identified with this process include:

·      Depleted state revenues for Supplemental State Aid (SSA)

·      Legislators not following the SSA timeline

·      The need for binding arbitration for legislators

·      School reform “Initiative Fatigue”

·      Educators keep making it happen with reduced funding – doing more with less

Today, we will explore reason #3 —the need for binding arbitration for legislators.

Iowa Code, Chapter 20, requires educators to negotiate with administrators and school boards in a timely manner. Chapter 20 is the bargaining and arbitration law in Iowa, which mandates this negotiations process. The Chapter 20 law allows the system to run in a timely and efficient manner. Unfortunately, the setting of the Supplemental State Aid (SSA) has not followed the same timeline and lags behind schools setting their budgets.

Historically, the financing of Iowa schools has evolved from being totally property-tax supported to a combination of property tax and state aid. Until the mid 1960’s, school district funding was all property tax. In 1971, the foundation program adopted state aid to school districts; and in 1992, Allowable Growth (AG) was adopted. In 1995, the formula was modified to set AG two years in advance to allow school districts to plan effectively. All of these changes were done so that AG/SSA would not be on “automatic pilot.” The problem we have now is that AG/SSA is on “pilot error” and totally suspect to the legislative process. AG/SSA have been held hostage politically 5 out of the last 6 years, which is why I believe there needs to be binding arbitration for the legislation an the Governor’s office.

I suggest that the legislature needs to be held to the same standard and have binding arbitration like the Chapter 20 law. If legislators can’t come to a voluntary settlement, the process should be settled in binding arbitration, like Chapter 20. Of course, this is unlikely to happen because the politicians would have to make this law. One suggestion is that the arbitration deadline could be the Revenue Estimating Committee’s (REC) final revenue estimate, in March, only four months before the start of the next fiscal year. The percentage set in March by the REC would become the Supplemental State Aid (SSA) for the next fiscal year. 

Since schools and AEAs have to follow Chapter 20, our negotiated settlements have resulted in a much higher percentage increase than the funding provided through the politicized SSA. As an example, last year, the average total package settlement (salaries and fringe benefits) were 3.15 percent and the new money from the state was 1.25 percent. This almost 2 percent gap has been consistent in five out of the last six years. This continuous gap in revenue versus expenses has caused numerous reductions of services to students and families in Iowa, even when the state has over a BILLION-dollar surplus.

Educators now have to be focused on spending too much time on politics, on finding ways to reduce services, staff and programs. This takes away from our emphasis on learning and prevents and diverts educators’ attention from student learning and innovation. When a system is constantly in survival mode, it is literally impossible to be in an innovative mode.

Legislators and the Governor’s office must hear from parents, educators and the business community that education is still a priority in Iowa. Invite your legislators to see education in your community or contact them and let them know about your educational needs. We must be our own advocates to stop this alarming de-funding trend!

As always, be sure to check out our blogs, which we hope will inform, inspire and guide your daily work:

For a complete listing of all blogs, please go to the Northwest AEA website. You can also sign up for an RSS feed to automatically receive blog updates (instructions provided on the Northwest AEA website).

Educationally yours,

Dr. Tim Grieves
Chief Administrator