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Concerned citizens address Baxter school board

Monday evening, the Baxter school board hosted a townhall meeting to discuss the proposed budget cuts the district is facing due to a $200,000 shortfall resulting from declining enrollment numbers.

Superintendent Matt Patton has made recommendations to the board to compensate for the shortfall, and the board will vote on the cuts during an upcoming meeting. Over two years, the school district lost 50.9 students, with the the .9 student accounting for home-schooled students who only attend for music and physical education and do not count as full-time students.

Many concerned citizens opposed the recommendation to downsize the K-12 music department by one teacher and to reduce the elementary principal position to half-time.

“I think it’s a direct reflection on what’s being driven down by the state level,” Jasper County Treasurer Doug Bishop said. “Iowa used to be first in education. The ladies and gentlemen at the statehouse have somehow put that towards the bottom of their priority. Now you see local school boards like ours, unfortunately, make (the) tough decisions.”

He admired the board’s decision to have a town hall-style meeting that allowed citizens to voice their opinions.

“I feel that it is important to save these positions, especially the music teacher position,” Michelle Wilkening said. “I think that there is more that can be done than based on their recommendations, more than just cutting a bunch of jobs. I know it’s a lot of money. It would have been nice to know what the other considerations were on the list.”

Other concerned citizens thought that one teacher running the whole music program would decrease the value of the program. Some said that it would be impossible for one teacher to do.

The board said any other staff layoff, in a single department would result in that program’s departure from the curriculum. Currently Baxter employs two music teachers.

Patton brought out buckets to help illustrate how funds are distributed. He informed the attendees that the school is made up into several funds. The general fund is used to pay for items such as teachers’ salaries. The school receives $6,001 per student and cannot receive additional funding per student because of state legislation regulations. The only way to add money to the fund is for private donations or insurance claims. Additional taxes cannot solve the issue.

The district saw a slight increase in funds from the school’s open enrollment program. The program allows for students of neighboring districts to attend Baxter schools. Last year the program had 73 students. The program brought in an extra $438,073 that would have otherwise been given to different districts.

Baxter has a cash reserve of about $750,000. According to Patton, if the schools remains on the current budget, the reserve money would be gone in three years. The money is used in times where schools receives no funding from state government.

Other districts have seen a decrease in enrollment. The board looked into the reason for the decline in student growth and determined that it most likely was caused by the departure of Maytag Corporation and rising gas prices. Patton and the board do not want to make budget cuts, but they have to.

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