IC school district discusses budget

BY KATIE HEINE | MARCH 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City School District officials said the remainder of their $2.4 million stimulus funds will help them avoid major staff reductions, but a slew of other options will be on the chopping block as the budget tightens.

“We’ll be looking at anything from buses to books and everything in between,” said Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann.

Superintendent Steve Murley said the district spends around 80 cents of every dollar on personnel and 20 cents on non-personnel items. If the district wants to maintain staff numbers, he said, it will have to cut costs among those 20 cents.

Non-personnel items can include anything from textbooks and computers to bus fuel and electricity, he said.

“What we’re going to try to do over the next year is handle that 20 cents efficiently,” Murley said.
While no specific budget items have been discussed, he said, it’s important for the district to plan ahead, especially with an increasing student population.

“We’re blessed in the Iowa City Community School District because we have a growing enrollment,” he said.

Between 150 to 200 students transfer to the Iowa City School District in a normal year, he said, and at that rate, it’s crucial the district hires an adequate number of instructors.

Approximately 11 teachers joined the district this school year, and the district used $500,000 of the stimulus money in an effort to counteract large class sizes. But more than half of the EdJobs stimulus funds remain: $1.8 million.

“I think we’re in a better position having not spent it right away,” Murley said.

Feldmann said those savings will keep officials from making drastic cuts next year. Ultimately, she said, some cuts to personnel are inevitable.

The Grant Wood Area Education Agency — which oversees special programs such as special-education support in the Iowa City School District — recently announced 50 layoffs because of past budget cuts.

But Murley said some of those positions will be reinstated in the district, which could result in overstaffing. Their placement and any other staffing decisions will partly rely on seniority and area of certification, he said.

An additional factor that will affect budget planning is allowable growth rate, or the increase over the previous year’s cost per pupil the district may receive.

The Iowa House passed a 0 percent allowable growth, while the Senate proposed a 2 percent growth rate. Murley said a compromise of 1 percent would be ideal, though it may be “wishful thinking.”

Government teacher Gary Neuzil, who has been at West High for 25 years, said he understands budget cuts are a tricky situation.

Moving forward with planning the budget, he encouraged implementing creative ideas without sacrificing staff or programs.

“It’s a lose-lose situation when people don’t think outside of the box,” Neuzil said.

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