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Ralliers protest plans to cut 22 teaching positions

BY SARAH BULMER | APRIL 19, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City School District officials plan to cut 22 teaching positions — 12 at the secondary level and 10 elementary school jobs — as a result of budget cuts from the state.

The School Board has to make an official decision and notify teachers by April 30, said Jim Pedersen, the district's human-resources director.

The cuts are an effort to make a dent in the $4 million to $6 million shortfall the district faces.

Pedersen said the cuts won't be necessary if Gov. Terry Branstad OKs a 2 percent allowable growth for the district's budget instead of 0 percent. However, with the state yet to decide on allowable growth, it's unclear what will happen this year.

"[Branstad] hasn't indicated his willingness to budge from 0," Pederson said.

In reaction to the news, roughly 40 people showed up for a rally on Monday at the intersection of Clinton and Harrison Streets, near the School District's Central Administration Building.

Standing in the crowd, Karen Meyer said she's the face of the budget cuts.

"It was a real shock when everybody found out last Friday that they're going to be making all of these cuts," said Meyer, who has taught math at West High since 1995.



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Meyer, who has four children, said she's personally affected but doesn't feel threatened.

"I'm a survivor," she said.

The cuts include 12 early retirements whose positions won't be filled and 10 layoffs, Pedersen said. And officials hope the teachers let go can be hired back in the near future.

School Board member Tuyet Dorau said members will discuss the issue at their next meeting, but it's premature to say what they will do.

"We've been very lucky in our area as far as our legislative delegation being very in tune with the budget," she said. "The governor has not been supportive."

She said the federal stimulus dollars tided the district over while state support shrank. But the federal money is gone, and officials don't plan to see more state funding.

Pedersen said the board requires school officials to keep a certain amount of money in savings each year. If the district is allowed to go below that number, some cuts could be avoided, he said.

Teachers said they are confused about what is going to happen to their careers and lives.

"It demoralizes teachers and staff and custodians," said Tom Yates, the president of the Iowa City Education Association and an English teacher at West High School for 31 years who now plans to retire.

Monday evening, he faced a crowd of concerned protesters with a microphone in his hand, and they engaged in call-and-response chanting of "Kids first."

He said school funds aren't being used efficiently.

"That money has to be spent for job retention," Yates said.

High-school students also gathered at the rally to voice their concern with the cuts.

"Even though we're leaving, it's still important that people coming into West and people who are already there have the same great education that we got," said Ashleigh Robinson, a West High senior.

And now teachers, students, and officials are waiting for the decision to be made with their fingers crossed.

"Teachers are the first line of defense with our children in the classroom, and that they're being removed from the classroom means our kids will not get the same quality of education," said Nancy Porter, a retired elementary-school teacher.


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