Iowa City schools face zero percent allowable growth

BY EDDIE KIRSCH | JUNE 24, 2011 7:20 AM

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During the next fiscal year, the Iowa City School District will have more costs but the same budget.

And following the Iowa Senate’s recent approval of a 0 percent allowable growth for Iowa schools during the next fiscal year, some local officials said they will have to look at adjusting operational costs.

Ann Feldmann, assistant superintendent of the School District, said fiscal 2012 will mark the first time in the history of allowable growth that there will be zero allowable growth.

“This is unprecedented,” Feldmann said. “$1.4 million represents 1 percent allowable growth; we were hoping for 1 percent. Zero means we have to live on the current year’s budget, knowing we have increasing costs.”

Senate Democrats have agreed to pass a budget with 0 percent allowable growth, meaning the spending limit for Iowa schools will be no greater than the previous year’s budget. On June 27, the Iowa City School Board’s Facilities Committee, which includes all the board members, will have a meeting to address budget issues. They remain uncertain in terms of how facilities and operations will be affected.

“We can raise as many funds as we want, but we are limited in how much we are able to spend,” said School Board member Gayle Klouda.

Although the district has the authority to raise property taxes, a cap on spending authority means the schools couldn’t use those extra revenues.

“Clearly, our expenses will increase, and the revenue we get from the state will not increase,” Klouda said. “Simple math will tell you that we have to accommodate.”

Both Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, and Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, said that for districts and schools with increasing enrollments, the budget allotted may not be hit as hard.

“Those that have declining enrollments will be hit harder,” Beall said. “It’s going to mean layoffs, bigger classroom sizes. It is going to hurt schools, and teachers, and kids.”

The Senate is also debating a 2 to 3 percent increase in allowable growth for the following fiscal year. Feenstra said the government is putting an extra $217 million back into K-12 after recent years’ spending cuts, amounting to an extra $115 per student.

“I’m not sure how it hurts schools,” he said. “They are getting an increase. Does a school need more than $115 [per student]? Conceivably.”

But Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville said the extra $217 million will not be accessible because there is no allowable growth.

“That just puts back into revenue that would have been generated by property taxes,” he said. “They’ll have more money in their balances but won’t be able to use it.”

Senators agreed that schools with declining enrollment will be hit harder, and even though some schools may lose teachers, Feenstra said, that isn’t necessarily bad news or good news.

“Let’s say a school has 30 students,” he said. “In essence, if a school is losing 30 students, you should get rid of one teacher. It’s like a business — if you increase production, you increase employees. If you decrease production, you decrease employees.”

Feldmann said that soon, school officials will start tackling budget issues.

“We’ll make it work, of course, because we have to, for kids,” she said. “We are going to have to figure out how we can be more operationally efficient. We do have some pretty small schools, so the question is do we draw kids in, to make them bigger and more efficient, or do we look at closing those schools.”

Feldmann said the School District will look at everything outside of how teachers teach. She said that 3 percent allowable growth will be critical for the year after next.

Dvorsky said there is a 99 percent limitation on state government spending. This year, it has spent 96.2 percent. He added it could spend $180 million more, but legislators chose not to.

“It’s an ideology,” Dvorsky said. “They want smaller government, less government spending.”

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