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Iowa City School District superintendent addresses local media on funding plan

BY LAUREN COFFEY | NOVEMBER 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa City School District Superintendent Steve Murley said efforts to help overcrowding in schools could be the first project they undertake using money from a new funding plan. HeĀ  addressed members of the media Monday to clarify the SAVE funding plan.

There were no community members present, and all the School Board members were absent with the exception of Jeff McGinness and board Vice President Karla Cook.

Primary discussion surrounded the purpose of the money and what the district plans to do with funds in the context of building a new high school and renovating elementary schools.

The SAVE plan will take the local-option tax funds and place them in the state’s hands, rather than locally as they are now. The funds will then be allocated to each district across the state based on the number of students in each district. Each school district will receive $870 per pupil, giving the local district $10.6 million in fiscal 2013.

The community will vote on the approval of the SAVE plan on Feb. 4, 2013.

Murley repeatedly stated that it is the School Board’s decision to decide how the funds will be spent.

“[The administrative team would] bring the proposals to the board, but the board has to vote on them,” he said. “Community members are saying ‘Who’s to say the board won’t choose a plan we don’t like?’ You want to deal with two issues, but you have to put one over the other. The thing with this [SAVE plan]; it helps alleviate some of those problems.”

Murley said there would likely be many projects going on at once. He said it is a possibility that the district would use the funds for smaller projects at first, such as renovating the elementary schools and creating more modules for the middle-school and high-school students to help with overcrowding.

“We have the ability to build the buildings, but we still have to have the ability to run those buildings,” Murley said. “We hope to be aggressive with renovations and remodeling with [elementary] schools and more conservative of [middle and high] schools. They’re more expensive to operate.”

School Board member Sarah Swisher agrees with Murley that focusing on elementary schools more aggressively is the right thing to do.

“He’s right; I’m hoping that’s what we see out of the district plan,” she said. “I hope we see attention to the elementary schools, because in elementary [schools], in particular to the east part of Iowa City, a lot of projects have been overlooked. I support him [in his decision] because the projects are small but also because they are so important.”

Craig Hansel, the district’s chief financial officer, said access to a greater amount of funding does not mean the district can make a “wish list” and have all its needs granted at once. The district hopes to progress through the planned changes, but it will take some time for every project to be completed.

The district plans on hiring a construction consultant to visit each school in the district to assess the needs.

“He’ll help determine the priorities of the current buildings and try to match the money with those needs,” Hansel said.

The consultant is set to show the School Board his findings at the Dec. 4 board meeting.

In the past, community members have mentioned issues with having to approve the SAVE plan without knowing exactly what the money will be used for. Officials say it is important to have the money before planning out changes for the district.

“It’s difficult to plan if you don’t know how many dollars are there,” Murley said. “We want to develop the plan to spend these dollars [after the plan is approved].”


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