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IC School Board touches on special education deficit

BY EMILY FRIESE | SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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With a roughly $3.5 million deficit, the Iowa City School District has asked for more money to fund its special-education programs.

On Tuesday evening, members of the School Board approved the request to seek additional allowable growth and supplemental aid for the negative special education balance during the current school year.

Because of a reduction in certain funds available funneled for special education, the deficit is projected to be greater than 2012’s number.

Specifically, lower tuition receipts for nonresident students, increase in special-education transportation routes, negotiated increase in staff members’ salaries, as well as a reduction in the weighting of students generating special education receipts for the prior school year are driving the debt.

School Board secretary Craig Hansel, who was filling in for Superintendent Steve Murley, said this request is a standard annual procedure conducted in order to meet the needs of special-education students, as required by Iowa law.

The expense of the program exceeds the funding the district receives from the state for special education, but Iowa law gives the opportunity to recover those expenditures in the form of budget growth, Hansel said.

“They don’t provide dollars behind that; we have to levy as a local cash reserve,” he said.

Hansel said in theory, resources should not be taken from regular programs in order to comply with the requirements of individual education programs. This prevents competition from occurring between regular and special-education programs.

“It has worked this way in Iowa as a funding structure for many years,” he said. “This district is like so many others and a majority of Iowa schools in that we do run special education deficit, and we’re very sensitive to that every year.”

Board member Patti Fields said most other states also have a special-education deficit.

“Basically, there are many others that don’t have the application to do this and they have to take that money out of their general-education budget,” she said. “It’s not unique to us, and I just want people to know that this is a levy.”

During a December meeting, the board will move forward in the application process.

Once that is approved, the Department of Education attaches the new allowable amount of growth to the previous school year’s allowable growth, which in turn increases the School District’s spending authority for special education, Hansel said.

“Actual cash behind our spending authority comes over from our funds balance,” he said. “But we levy a little cash every year in anticipation of this.”

Chris Lynch, who is new to the board, said he wants the special-education program to be the best in the nation, and that gaining spending authority is the best way to do this.

“We have great programs; it’s amazing,” he said. “We have great teachers, great kids, great parents, and we have to figure out how to support that.”

New board member Brian Kirschling said his main concern lies with seeing that all bills are paid.

“It doesn’t mean we need to make any special exceptions, but we need to make sure all our shortages are paid,” he said.

Re-elected member Tuyet Dorau said she would love to see the state Legislature revisit the special-education weighting because it has not been changed in over 10 years.

“In the 10 years, requirements have changed,” she said. “There is a larger burden on the school districts administratively for special education.”

Dorau also said the Legislature needs to reconsider the way funding is executed for special-education programs.

“They haven’t changed the funding formula concerning special education,” she said. “So they should take a look at that.”


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