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Dysart, Union ready for 2019 Iowa Legislative session

January 14, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor (editor@dysartreporter.com) , Dysart Reporter

The 2019 Iowa Legislative session will convene on Monday, Jan. 14 as school districts and cities across the state will keep their eyes focused on the Capitol, including Dysart and Union school district.

"You're watching almost daily on what's being discussed at the Capitol," Union Superintendent Travis Fleshner said. "With all three chambers controlled by one party, things move quickly. The Iowa Association of School Boards or the School Administrators of Iowa are constantly there and sending us back feedback on hot-button topics very quickly."

The Union school board each year approves a set of legislative priorities Fleshner and advocacy groups pay attention to in that year's session. This year, the board hopes to see action on Adequate and Timely Supplemental State Aid (SSA), Extension of the SAVE, Expanded Preschool Funding, and Against Vouchers.

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"Supplemental State Aid is the funding source for school districts," Fleshner said. "While the funding formula itself is driven by student enrollment, the legislature set the percentage of increase each year. Union, like all other school districts in the area, will need to make difficult decisions if the state continues to fund school at a low SSA rate. Going into this session, realistically a two percent would be embraced over the one percent we've received in recent years, but It's like being asked what your raise should be versus what you think it can be. We operate off a expectation of one percent with our five year plan. Technology has made it easier to project budgets and items impacted to make a wise decision."

The extension of the SAVE is also a top priority in the state as Union currently has projects bonded against these funds until 2029. Union does not have immediate plans to leverage SAVE funds in the near future, but to have this funding source available is very important for school district to complete larger projects without impacting local tax rates, according to Fleshner.

For expanded preschool funding, currently preschools (four year old) receive partial funding to offset the instructional costs associated with their programs, as expenses increase. Fleshner and the board would like the state to consider increasing the funding percentage to allow for potential expansion of programs. Lastly the issue of vouchers surfaced during last year's session and the school board is not in support of using state funds to support private programming.

"Our administrative group, particularly area superintendents, are in in conversation with local elected officials periodically," Fleshner said. "We have already met with basically every official that touch our athletic conference on November 30th to talk about things that pertain to education and things we'd like to see happen."

Decisions in the legislature go beyond education as cities like Dysart will keep a close eye on bills that will pass through both parties. Dysart belongs to the League of Cities, a group of cities that focus on watching the legislative session and have staff at the Capitol to represent the member city's point of view.

"We want senators and representatives to understand how changes to legislation might impact cities directly," Pam Thiele, Mayor of Dysart said. "It's a nice way to learn about changes in bills comg up and have a way to communicate our views."

This year, Thiele feels several items could be address or she wants to see maintained. First is the subject of maintaining Home Rule, or local control on different subjects to fit the personality of the city and making decision best for the city.

"When you start getting done to the specific governance, it's better to have it done by local control to keep all situations under control," Thiele said.

Next is the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to help fund projects across the state. Though already implemented, Thiele hopes that incoming legislators will hear voices from across the state to leave the program intact.

"Dysart has been able to use TIF and a lot of good has happened across the state," Thiele said. "There are some people who believe it's not a good tool and it's been misused. The League of Cities staff will make sure to talk with new reps and senators to help them understand how TIF has been used and made a difference in Iowa. We want to protect that as an economic tool. Overall, it's a great program and there's a lot of stuff that would never have happened without it."

The City of Dysart would like to ensure backfill after being implemented in 2013 to reduce commercial tax rates to attract businesses in Iowa. Eventually, Thiele believes rates will be lowered close to residential rates on a set schedule.

"When they came up with this idea, we save thousands or tens of thousands for communities," Theile said. "There are some legislators that weren't part of making this bill and they feel it's a place they can balance the budget by getting rid of it. Some larger cities might have to cut a police officer position to make up for that loss because that's the type of dollars you're looking at. Legislator needs to know what backfill does to help communities. If it were to disappear, burden would fall more on everyone in the community to continue other area of city finances."

Unfunded mandates is another area Thiele wishes would be addressed because she believes they hurt cities as legislators create mandates communities can't pay for without a fund source from the state to help implement that mandate, such as the fireworks bill several years ago or the lagoon upgrades Dysart is facing with extreme cost associated. A committee is being formed to look at the impact these upgrades will have economically on small towns.

"All of these legislators are going to Des Moines with different ideas and they can't all implement their ideas," Thiele said. "We want to make our state better, but we have to consider how any changes will affect our communities."

In keeping contact with local legislators and working with lobbying groups representing their interest at the Capitol, Fleshner and Thiele strive to ensure their concerns are heard and decision in Des Moines help, not hinder, the community and school district.

"One of the big things our communities can do is ask questions and don't hesitate to call their district," Fleshner said. "We are monitoring Capitol Hill and can help people understand what's going on. Contacting your legislators is also a great way to express your thoughts and let them know what you want to see happen with education."

Dysart and Union are represented by Jeff Edler (R) in the Iowa Senate who can be reached at jeff.edler@legis.iowa.gov. In the Iowa House, the area is represented by Dean Fisher who can be reached at dean.fisher@legis.iowa.gov.

 
 

 

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