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Iowa City school board discusses fiscal 2014 budget proposal

BY STACEY MURRAY | MARCH 06, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City School Board faces some uncertainty following new budget recommendations for fiscal 2014.

The board received the proposal Tuesday evening and set a date for a public hearing on the budget, which features a 4 percent increase in potential allowable growth rate that will lower property taxes 24 cents per $1,000 of property valuation.

But the board ventures into uncertainty — the Iowa Legislature hasn’t yet set the allowable-growth percentage.

“I would love to be more set, but at this point in time, that’s not possible,” said School District Chief Financial Officer Craig Hansel, who presented the recommendations on Tuesday.

The proposed budget will be available for public comment on April 2, when the board will also vote on the budget. It will be filed with the county auditor on April 15.

The allowable-growth rate determines how much the state and district spend per student from one year to the next. Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed a 0 percent allowable growth, which would cause the districts to spend the same on each student as the previous year.

The projected expenditure budget per student for fiscal 2014 is $10,282 per student, but Hansel said this isn’t necessarily what the district would spend. It serves more as a cap on spending.

The majority expenditures on students come from instruction, administration, and maintenance.
The district currently spends substantially less per student than other districts across the country.

In order to raise the money spent per student to the national average, the state would have to use an allowable-growth rate of 16 percent.

The Iowa House of Representatives proposed a growth rate of 2 percent, and the Senate proposed a 4 percent rate, but School Board members said they might settle somewhere in the middle.

“It’s a guessing game,” board President Marla Swesey said.

The board members are hesitant about publishing a rate before the Legislature comes to a decision, fearing public disproval.

School Board member Tuyet Durau proposed publishing a rate of 4 percent — a likely maximum rate — to not surprise taxpayers who might pay more than anticipated.

“Strategically, I don’t know if that would be an enviable way to go,” Durau said about the idea of publishing a lower rate. “I always like to have things go down rather than up when it comes to tax rates.”

The Legislature could set a different growth rate; a rate from 0 to 4 percent would still lower property taxes, but the amount would vary.

Hansel suggested 4 percent was an appropriate rate.

“We can publish that number, and it will probably be a little softer than when it hits,” Hansel said.

Durau said publishing a lower rate that’s subject to change could harm community members who live on tight budgets.

Board member Jeff McGuiness also suggested the board set the rate of 4 percent, but he hoped the state government would take notice.

“I just personally am on the side of asking for 4 percent,” he said, in hopes the Legislature would take the published rate into consideration, providing the district with more funds per student.

The district looks to the community for input on the proposed budget.

“We’ll be able to have that conversation in front of the public,” Superintendent Steve Murley said.


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