Education

Davenport superintendent Art Tate reprimanded

'Sometimes there is a higher degree of ethics,' Art Tate says

Art Tate

Davenport superintendent
Art Tate Davenport superintendent

DAVENPORT — The Iowa Board of Education Examiners has reprimanded Davenport Superintendent Art Tate for intentionally spending more than the state allows school districts to spend, an effort that could have drawn more serious consequences but still left him wondering if his challenge to state funding was worth it.

Ann Lebo, the board’s executive director, wrote in an Aug. 3 order that Tate’s conduct “constitutes a violation of the Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics governing the teaching profession,” and that Tate was reprimanded for the charged conduct.

“It’s not what I wanted to happen. What I wanted to happen is nothing,” Tate said Friday. “If you’re going to be fair, I think that nothing should have happened to me.”

Tate knowingly spent more of the Davenport school district’s cash reserves than the state had authorized.

He has long maintained the reserve funds were spent to equalize per-pupil funding for Davenport students, where the district receives $175 less per pupil than many other Iowa districts because of inequities in the state’s school funding formula.

By law, districts cannot spend more than the state authorizes, even if they have cash reserves. But districts can ask the State School Budget Review Committee, a nonpartisan group, to consider a request to modify budgetary limitations.

Tate did that in 2015, and the request was turned down.

In 2015, during a school board meeting, Tate told the board and the public he intended to violate state law, an announcement that drew applause and a standing ovation.

After an administrative law judge ruled Tate had violated the board’s code of ethics, it was left to the state board to determine what sanctions — including removal of his administrator’s license — Tate would face.

Tate waived the right to a disciplinary hearing and notified the board he wanted to resolve the complaint through an informal disposition.

The state and Tate agreed to the settlement “in an effort to avoid the time and expense of a hearing, the uncertainty of litigation, and the potential for appeal,” according to the settlement agreement and the board’s final order.

“To me, it ends a career of service in the military and education with a terrible blight on my record,” said Tate, who already had announced he plans to retire next year.

The reprimand will go to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification national database.

“If anyone looks up ‘Tate,’ this is what’s going to come up, that I overspent my budget, and I was found by the state to have committed an ethics violation,” he said. “I know differently, but people looking it up will not. They’re not going to know the whole story.”

Was the reprimand worth making a point?

“From the absolute beginning, I was ready to take the worst,” he said. “But that was when I thought we could turn the state around. I’m not through. I’m sure the district’s not through advocating for it. It’s according to whether the Legislature has the will.

“Sometimes there is a higher degree of ethics, a different plane of ethics than just the legal one, and that is the fairness of not giving every student the same amount of support from the stated” he said. “And it would have been unethical for me to not take that stand, and not do something.

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“Sometime before I die, if every student in Iowa is given the same amount of money, per pupil, I would say that reprimand is worth it,” he added. “Right now, I don’t see that it was worth it.”

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