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School board votes to dip into reserve fund, hire teachers

BY MARY KATE KNORR | DECEMBER 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Members of the Iowa City School District are urging school officials to dip into reserve funds in order to hire more teachers.

School Board members voted unanimously to give Superintendent Steve Murley access to reserve funds during a meeting Tuesday evening. These funds are usually 5 percent of the district's general budget.

Parents and teachers have requested the district hire more teachers to offset overcrowding, a result of this year's high class sizes.

Gary Sanders, a substitute teacher in the district, said the decision to employ more teachers is crucial to the well-being of students.

"I see teachers in Iowa City putting in an incredible amount of time and effort to be excellent teachers, but we can't do our best teaching when we have 28 kids in kindergarten and second-grade and 35 kids in third- and sixth-grade classes," Sanders said. "We desperately need more teachers."

Iowa City Education Association President Tom Yates said he agrees the overcrowding problem must be addressed, but the solution needs to be carefully considered.

"[The Iowa City Education Association is] in favor of an effective and well-thought solution, but we are not in favor of taking this to extreme," he said. "While the schools get bigger, it doesn't change the nature of dealing with that number of students."

Yates said the board needs to consider high-school class sizes as well.

"An overcrowded science lab in a high-school lab is a dangerous place," he said. "I hope it doesn't happen, but it very well could, and then we are in an interesting situation."

Board member Patti Fields said dipping into reserve funds could prove to be an irresponsible decision, because the district would have to compensate for the withdrawal next fiscal year.

"It's similar to paying a credit-card bill with another credit card," Fields said. "We are not having any kind of planning for expense reduction, but now we're going to spend authority we don't even have. I have great concerns for what this means."

Yates contended that the funds should not be used to hire substitute teachers because many are often new in the profession. Their lack of experience, especially in overcrowded classrooms, would not help students, he said.

"If you are going to go ahead [and hire substitute teachers], do this carefully and make careful selections," he said. "We can support this, this year, but this is the result of poor planning. We should have seen this coming."


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