School district delays teaching cuts

BY LUKE VOELZ | APRIL 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City School District officials are delaying plans to cut 22 full-time equivalent positions for the upcoming school year.

To help prevent laying the teachers off, the School Board will discuss decreasing the amount of money that needs to be taken from the district's general fund and put into a savings account, said Director of Human Resources Jim Pedersen, though it is not clear to what extent that will help avoid the cuts.

"The reason we put a hold on them is [the School Board is] going to revisit the budget," Pedersen said.

District officials announced earlier this week they planned to cut 12 high-school teaching positions and 10 at the elementary-school level — 12 early retirements whose positions won't be filled and 10 layoffs.

The School Board must make an official decision and notify teachers by April 30.

Pedersen said Wednesday the potential savings would not accommodate teachers whose salaries came from outside general-fund expenditures. The district gave reduction-in-force notices to 14 such teachers today: six from special education, six because of spent stimulus funding, and two because of rehired teachers from the Iowa Area Education Association who had greater seniority.

Tom Yates, the president of the Iowa City Teacher's Association, said he's glad the board is taking the initiative to dip into savings money.

"If they want to go into the reserve, I'm certainly in favor of that," he said. "When [the School Board] keeps saying 'Oh my gosh, we have to have a reserve fund for a rainy day,' it certainly seems to me now that it's raining."

However, he said, he's concerned about the $1.8 million remaining from last year's Education Jobs Bill, which the district is required to spend on retaining teachers. He said neither he nor other members of the Teacher's Association have received confirmation those funds went toward alleviating the potential cuts.

It's possible the board may have mixed the money into the district's general fund, Yates said, which is used for teacher salaries but also general district expenditures.

"[The money] would alleviate all of the staff cuts they have in mind and then some," said the City High English teacher. "If [the board members] can't tell you what they did with it, you need to ask a lot more questions."

But School Board Vice President Tuyet Dorau said the money had been used to maintain faculty, meaning last week's 22 announced cuts fell outside its reach.

"Those dollars have been covered and are being used to save as many jobs as possible," she said.

Dorau said it was too early to predict additional measures for avoiding staff cuts.

Superintendent Steve Murley was unavailable for comment.

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