Facing the possibility of layoffs, officials in the Newton Community School district are keeping a close eye on the state legislature this week.
Last week, the house and the senate moved forward with education funding bills, a priority for governor Kim Reynolds.
The governor had budgeted for a 1.5 percent increase in school funding, at a cost of $54 million, but the house and the senate are at odds over the final number, with the house passing a 1 percent increase of $32 million in House File 2230. The senate amended the bill with an additional $14 million, earmarked to address transportation inequalities in Iowa’s most rural districts.
Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, said he doesn’t feel like the funding bill goes far enough to address the needs of local school districts. Voting against the bill last week, Breckenridge said he believes the state needs to do more.
“I’d like to see more. I hate to see us shortchange our children and shortchange our future economic growth,” Breckenridge said. “We need to end corporate giveaways and use that money to better fund education.”
The amendment will bring the bill back to the house for consideration, but despite the increase NCSD officials still have concerns about the funding bill. While superintendent Bob Callaghan said the district has been planning for a zero percent increase in supplemental state aid, the amount still falls short of meeting the district’s needs.
“We were planning for zero percent, the 1 percent won’t match our compensation,” Callaghan said.
NCSD teachers are in the midst of a two-year contract, with a guaranteed 2 percent raise each year. Personnel costs account for the bulk of the district’s budget, making up 83 percent of the overall budget. With shrinking supplemental state aid, Callaghan said the district’s biggest issue is that expenditures continue to be higher than revenue, forcing the district to empty out their rainy day fund to cover the shortfall. Board President Travis Padget said he wouldn’t change the contract if he could.
“We wanted to make sure that our teachers and staff feel as secure in their employment as much as possible,” Padget said. “I wanted to make sure everyone felt like they were taken care of.”
Padget said it’s “unfortunate” the supplemental state aid doesn’t match the compensation package the district agreed too, but he feels the agreement is fair. Without a two-year agreement in place, Padget said he felt the district wouldn’t have been able to come to an agreement with the teacher’s union without raising their offer.
Reynolds said she doesn’t agree with Padget, and during a stop on her “Unleashing Opportunities” tour in Newton Reynolds said school districts need to make tough choices to deal with lower than expected supplemental state aid.
“That’s why it was so important that we passed collective bargaining reform because we wanted to give local school districts the flexibility to really deal with the amount of the revenue they got and have to make the tough choices that we’re dealing with at the state level,” Reynolds said.
At 45 percent, school funding already represents a significant amount of the state’s budget, Reynolds said. With the state dealing with a $32 million budget shortfall, school districts may need to make do with what they have, there are only so many dollars to go around.
“Those are local government decisions they have to make and explain to the constituents that they represent,” Reynolds said.
Balancing the district’s budget may mean layoffs, and district administrators have targeted eight positions across the district to potentially be cut. Under the proposal four positions would be eliminated at the elementary school level, three at the middle school, and one at the high school. Callaghan said the district is working to prevent the layoffs, and has offered an early retirement package to entice older, higher paid teachers to leave the district in an effort to balance the books. The district has already cut its facilities budget to the maximum, Callaghan said.
“I told the board two years ago that we were running out of non-personnel reductions,” Callaghan said.
Callaghan noted in the five years he’s served as superintendent, he has yet to lay anyone off. While the final numbers won’t be in until the end of this week, Callaghan said he’s expecting to have six or seven staff members opt into the early retirement package the district is offering. Those staff members, combined with employees who leave the district to relocate or take another job will hopefully open up enough positions to prevent any layoffs, Callaghan said.
“Our plan is not to lay anyone off, I’ve been here for five years and we’ve never had to lay anyone off,” Callaghan said.
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org