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Schwamman advocates for rural schools

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Barb Schwamman

Barb Schwamman

Representatives from member school districts of the Rural School Advocates of Iowa convened their annual meeting on Wed., Oct. 26 at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny.

One of those representatives was Barb Schwamman, shared superintendent for Riceville and Osage Community School Districts.

Barb Schwamman graduation

Superintendent Barb Schwamman gives a speech at Osage's 2020 graduation ceremony.

According to the press release, RSAI advocates on behalf of students, parents and communities in rural Iowa to ensure that all students have access to a great Iowa education, regardless of where they live.

School funding, known as State Supplemental Assistance, or SSA, was a clear priority for RSAI members. Superintendent Dan Peterson, Central DeWitt Community School District, said this funding supports the very survival of rural schools.

“We have 47 fewer school districts than we did just 20 years ago," Peterson said.

School funding primarily pays for teachers, counselors, librarians, administrators, nurses, secretaries, coaches and custodians, many in critical short supply in rural schools.

“Low funding inhibits our ability to attract and retain staff and to remain competitive with the private sector in Iowa’s growing economy,” according to Peterson.

Joel Pedersen, superintendent at Cardinal Community School District, advocated for RSAI to insist on an increase of at least 3.75 percent per pupil.

“In 11 of the last 12 years, the increase per pupil has not been enough to cover our schools’ cost of doing business," he said. "We appreciate the legislature and governor committing to funding for formula equity and transportation assistance, but with today’s wage inflation, we simply can’t continue with two percent increases and keep up with Iowa’s private sector employers.”

A record FY 2021 surplus carried forward in the state budget, with over $800 million available for funding Iowa’s priorities, including public education.

According to the press release, innovation during the pandemic will improve instruction and student engagement, if students and staff have access to good Internet connections.

Brian Johnson, shared superintendent for Prairie Valley and Southeast Webster Grant and Community School Districts, thanked Gov. Reynolds for her push on expanded Internet in Iowa last session and encouraged her and Iowa’s legislators to keep at it.

“Iowa’s rural students and staff need reliable and affordable broadband Internet connections to continue our progress in STEM and computer science classes, as well as connecting us to resources throughout the world," he said. "This is no longer just a homework gap for our students.”

Schwamman advocated for flexibility and supports for rural schools to recruit and retain great teachers, bus drivers and staff.

“Those of us on a state border see teachers drive a short commute for thousands more in salary," she said. "State licensure, accreditation and retirement requirements are barriers to recruiting local community members and retired teachers to fill vacant positions right away.

"Although the pandemic has made it harder to fill vacant position, we’ve seen this coming in rural Iowa for years. Educators must be a critical component of Iowa’s Future Ready Workforce focus.”

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