Iowa City to cut 4 to 5 reading teacher positions

BY LUKE VOELZ | MARCH 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Budget cuts and exhausted federal funding in the Iowa City School District may lead to teacher cuts for the upcoming school year.

School District officials told reading teachers at a Central Office meeting last week that four to five reading positions may be cut because of declines in dropout-prevention funding, Title 1 funding, and stimulus funding. The latter is set to run out at the end of this school year.

“Those funding sources are targeted toward those [reading] positions, so if they cut back Title 1 money, that would not justify cutting a regular employee,” said Jim Pedersen, the School District director of human resources.

However, he said, other positions will likely be cut in the near future.

“Reading teachers are just one pocket of cuts,” he said. “Our general fund has a shortfall, so we will be making some reductions for our regular education staff, too.”

Sarah Shatzer teaches the Reading Resource program at Horn Elementary, a 15- to 20-week course designed to aid students struggling with reading. This helps prevent students from entering special-education programs, which would be very costly for the district, she said.

“If someone really took a close look at children in the program, there are a number of children who would have been in [special education] if they had not been in Reading Resource,” she said. “It has been a very cost-saving process.”

The program is normally open to any student struggling with reading. With declining dropout-prevention funds, it will likely change its eligibility standards in the upcoming school year so that students must meet one of several requirements to receive aid.

Shatzer said district officials told her and other reading teachers this could lead to a 50 percent drop in student participation.

“I wish that the district could fund the program with other money such as general funds from general budget,” she said.

The predicted funding decline is partially due to the depletion of funds received through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, said district Director of Instruction Pam Ehly. President Obama signed the act two years ago, which gave affected schools the option to receive the funding over one or two years. The Iowa City School District chose the two-year option, and it will have spent all of the $1,038,863 by June 30.

“With our state Legislature and its attitude toward teachers and education at the moment, this seems like something that’s going to continue in the next couple years,” said Julie Bride, the Iowa City Education Association elementary representative. “When they give us zero allowable growth and zero money for any student coming in, cuts have to be made somewhere.”

Gov. Terry Branstad has propsed zero percent allowable growth for fiscal 2012. Bride said she understands the need for these cuts, though she is disappointed they fall on the teachers.

“In my utopian world, teachers would be the last place cut, because they have a direct impact on students and their education,” she said. “My real-world brain also says that there is a budget, and the majority of budget comes in human resources.”

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