School Board hears update on 2023 education legislation

By Roz Weis,

First published in the May 11 Public Opinion Newspaper. 

Decorah Community School District (DCSD) Superintendent Dr. Tim Cronin gave a rundown of the education bills passed in the 2023 Iowa legislative session during a meeting of the Board of Education Monday night.

Among the highlights was the passage of HF68 Education Savings Account (ESA)/School Choice signed into law earlier this year allowing every Iowa family to access up to $7,600 of state money per student to pay private school costs like tuition and fees. The new law will be introduced in phases, with 2023-24 eligibility limited to incoming kindergarteners, all students not enrolled in a private school for the prior two semesters (could be either homeschool, from a public school, or potentially new to the state), and a student enrolled in a private school with a household income at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty line, $83,250 for a family of four. In the second year (2024-25), eligibility is limited to all entering kindergarten students, all students not enrolled in a private school for the prior two semesters and students enrolled in a private school with a household income at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty line, $111,000 for a family of four, and a prior year recipient of an ESA. In the third year (2025-26), there are no restrictions, with all K-12 students in Iowa eligible, regardless of income. Applications for ESA are being accepted starting later this month.

Other new state legislation highlighted in Cronin’s report were the following:

• Senate File 538 and Senate File 482 preventing people from using school restrooms that do not align with their designated gender at birth.

• Senate File 496 requiring schools to adhere to distribution of “age-appropriate” materials and requires schools to publish a detailed explanation of the procedures or policies in effect for the parent of a student enrolled in the school district to request removal of a book, article, outline, handout, video or other education material available to students in the classroom or library. Requires the policy to be prominently displayed on the district’s website. A detailed explanation of procedures or policies to request a review of decisions made by the school board, including the petition process for a public hearing.

• SF 391, which outlines specific education standards and provides for up to five virtual snow days or 30 hours of virtual learning in the school calendar. 

• House File 604 which creates a new disciplinary procedure for teachers dealing with violence in the classroom and disruptive students.

A comprehensive listing of new education bills was provided in the superintendent’s report for review by the board, and it is available online at the district’s website.

Other action

In other action, the school calendar for the 2023-24 school year was approved. Classes begin Wednesday, Aug. 23. Virtual “snow days” would be implemented after the assigned snow make-up days pending state law and banked hours. Graduation is set for May 19, 2024. Identified in the calendar were four potential school make-up days (May 20-23). Barring unforeseen school cancellations, the end of the school year should be prior to Memorial Day next May.

The board heard a report from High School Principal Brad Hurst and DHS Guidance Counselor Pat Trewin on the career and technology education standards which are to be approved by the board on an annual basis. Outlined during the meeting was the DCSD Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP) in accordance with State Board of Education’s standards. Through connection to the ICAP, each year in grades 8-12, students are encouraged to design, reflect and consider steps needed to achieve their postsecondary goals. The local educators explained the many programs offered to Decorah students throughout those four years, including options in the areas of agriculture, business, finance, marketing and management, human services industry, and applied sciences, technology, engineering and manufacturing. A Career Technical Advisory Committee is made up of several faculty members and support staff at the school.
Following the presentation, Board members approved the ICAP as presented.

At the conclusion of the meeting, administrative and support staff/coaches contracts were approved as presented by Supt. Cronin. An increase of approximately three percent was included in the salary packages, with the exception of Cronin, who opted for a smaller increase in exchange for increased sick days which were not built into his new contract last year. Salary details are available on the district’s website.

Public hearing set

Board members scheduled a public hearing at the next monthly board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 12, to consider submitted bids for an outdoor recreation space improvement project adjacent to the middle school.

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