The Newton Community School District’s Board of Education passed its 2014-15 fiscal year budget on Monday night, but not without resistance from some of the district’s teachers and members of the Newton Community Education Association.
Budgets were due to the State of Iowa today.
“I would like to bring up some concerns that my members brought to me about the budget and the budget cuts,” NCEA President Barb Hackworth said.
One topic of concern for her members was the carryover supply budget, which would be eliminated from next year’s budget. The reason her members were concerned was due to the district freezing all supplies spending during this current fiscal year.
A number of teachers, who hadn’t already used their allotted $250 for supply costs, felt “penalized” for not spending their money she said.
She added that under the proposed new budget, teachers would have to ask permission from their principal to buy every little thing they need for the classroom and some would rather go without or spend out of pocket instead of going through that process.
“As with any budget, when you need to make cuts, you start with the luxuries and not the necessities,” Hackworth said. “When I have a ‘budget crisis’ at my house, I don’t start out with things like the groceries and don’t pay the gas bill. I stop going to the movies or I stop going to the mall.”
In a later portion of the meeting, Superintendent Bob Callaghan responded by clarifying that teachers will still have their $250 supply budget next year, but the district would just be eliminating the carryover of supply funds. By eliminating the carryover, he projects the district would save $250,000 annually.
He also said that after staff members have spent their $250, the district typically had that $250,000 just sitting there, unused. By having those funds remain stagnant, it hurts the district’s spending authority, he explained.
Another aspect of the budget Hackworth questioned was the district growing its administrative team, over the last several years, but proposing not to replace an outgoing Title I teacher and an outgoing instructional coach next year.
“Those proposed budget cuts take a Title I teacher and take out an instructional coach, but it leaves us the luxury of an administrative heavy district,” Hackworth said. “Our district has seen a declining enrollment over the last several years, but it has seen an increase in the number of administrators.”
By not replacing either position, the district saves $122,000 and would no longer be paying either salary out of the General Fund. Rebuilding the General Fund was one of the goals of the proposed cuts. The teachers who filled the positions both agreed to voluntarily step down at the end of the school year, and the district said it would find a way to utilize the resources available to ensure it wouldn’t directly affect how students learn.
Callaghan said he trusted the staff and administrative team in the district to come up with an adequate solution. He also suggested that Berg Elementary Vice-Principal Todd Shuster and Area Education Agency representative Nicole Patton could help fill in voids as both have experience as instructional coaches.
“We are trying to balance all the needs with what’s available,” Aurora Heights Principal Carol Farver said later in the meeting in response to the loss of those positions.
Hackworth also challenged the district’s claims to be in a “budget crisis.” The NCEA had Jon Studer, an Iowa State Education Association advocacy specialist and expert in school finance, look over the district’s Certified Annual Report, which was passed on Oct. 28.
“(The CAR) shows that our district’s administrative salaries have increased 12 percent, with a corresponding 10.8 percent increase in benefits, over the past few years,” Hackworth said. “This compares to only a 2.5 percent increase in instructional salaries and a 4.5 percent increase in instructional benefits.”
“A note of interest, he also told me that, according to our annual report, he feels that ‘our district is nowhere near a budget crisis,’ and that Newton is ‘likely in the top third of schools in Iowa in financial security.’”
In addition to Hackworth, NCEA member Lucinda Sinclair spoke out, as did Thomas Jefferson teacher Paula Lureman and Berg Elementary teachers Miranda Bratland and Jenny Springer. Teachers from various campuses in the district were also present at the meeting.
When the budget was brought to a vote, Callaghan, members of the board and various district officials spent more than an hour addressing all of the teachers’ concerns. District Business Manager Gayle Isaac broke down aspects of the budget from worksheets that were in the board packet.
After all of the debate, the budget was passed unanimously.
As submitted, the board passed a budget that had more in total revenues, $37,343,223, than was being calculated for total expenditures, $36,928,988, and was almost $1 million lower than the re-estimated 2014 FY budget. Next year’s tax rate will be $14.57 per $1,000 of taxable evaluation.
Board member Travis Padget asked Isaac what would have happened if the district hadn’t started finding ways to save money and rebuild its General Fund. Isaac said if the measures they took weren’t implemented, there was a chance the NCSD could wind up like the Russell school district within three years.
In 2008, the Iowa Department of Education shut down the Russell district due to severe financial problems.
“I believe that we can do these,” Callaghan said of the new cuts. “I believe in the faculty, staff and administration in the Newton Community School District — I believe in them. I believe they can find ways to more efficiently address whatever. However, just doing it the same way — we can’t do it that way anymore. We’ve got to find a new way of approaching it.”
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.