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School Board looks at cuts, future expansion

BY CLARK CAHILL | FEBRUARY 23, 2009 7:30 AM

With the Iowa City School Board’s budget decreasing by $6 million over the next two years, officials are considering staff cuts and a possible adjustment of school hours.

Because of inevitable staff cuts, officials will look at reorganizing positions to make operations as efficient as possible with fewer employees, Associate Superintendent Jim Behle said. The district at present employs approximately 1,650 people, roughly 900 of them teachers.

Along with staff cuts, officials believe doubling bus routes, and in turn changing bell schedules, will allow for the district to save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. For example, high schools would start at 7:45 a.m., and elementary and secondary schools would begin at 9 a.m., Behle said.

“If we can run a different bell schedule for these schools, we can use the same bus for two routes opposed to one,” Behle said, noting that it would save the district $40,000 per double-route.

The School Board will discuss the district’s fiscal 2010 budget during its meeting Tuesday night. Staff members will present the board with a preliminary proposal for what the district can do to reduce its budget.

“When we cut the budget, we have to look at personnel and transportation,” Behle said.

Salaries and employee benefits, along with transportation and tuition, account for 87 percent of the district’s budget, which makes it hard to avoid cuts in these areas, he said.

Officials said they want to make sure the cuts won’t have a significant effect on students.

“The priority is to minimize the effect on the classroom,” Behle said, while admitting most cuts will inevitably have some repercussions on classrooms.

The board also plans to look at future high-school enrollment at its meeting. The district’s current enrollment policy was reapproved for the 2009-10 school year at the board’s Feb. 9 meeting, but the members will begin to discuss the long term.

Officials have projected by 2017, the district will have around 4,000 high-school students — for which the current schools do not have the capacity, Behle said.

The district currently spends $3.2 million a year on high-school construction and operations. He estimated a new high school would increase annual costs for the district by $1.9 million.

But, he said, the board members have to plan now in order to finance future construction.

“We don’t have the funds for [a new school] right now,” Behle said.

The board will set dates for public forums at its meeting. He said the members are looking for input on what school sizes the community would like, what difference in size people are willing to accept, what the district can afford to operate, and how a smaller school would affect class offerings and extracurricular activities.


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