By David Hotle, The JOURNAL
Again this year, area schools may face the challenge of not receiving what administrators consider to be an adequate yearly increase in state funding to cover the increased costs associated with running the school district, with the possibility of only 1 percent of additional funding.
This year, the Iowa House approved an increase of about $32 million in state aid for K-12 public schools, but the Iowa Senate amended the measure a few hours later and passed a bill with $46 million in additional spending for the coming school year. The Senate?s action leaves both Republican-controlled chambers at odds, and it means House File 2230 must return to the House for consideration. The amendment provides about $14 million in extra money to address inequities in school aid between school districts and inequities in school transportation funding.
?I try not to be unrealistic when I look at the big picture of the state?s budget,? Washington and WACO school districts superintendent Jeff Dicks said. ?I guess when we talk about priorities, education rises to the top of my list and I think it should with most everyone since it is one of the biggest line items we have in the state. I think it has been shown over and over that a sound education produces productive workers.?
Dicks said the comfortable spot is about a four percent increase, which Iowa schools haven?t received since 2010.
He said while state money may only go up 1 percent, the cost of the school district regularly increases. He said this year the school district saw an increase of 10 percent for its insurance rates. Last year, Iowa schools received about a 2.25 percent increase.
He said the Washington School District had planned ahead for the possibility of a small increase in state funding and planned accordingly, offering an early retirement program last year as a cost savings. Dicks said he doesn?t expect to have to make any cuts in the budget as a result of the funding and will be able to provide district employees with a pay increase this year, although he said the district couldn?t withstand it indefinitely.
He said the WACO School District isn?t on quite as stable of an economic ground as Washington and that he is working to withstand the funding without cutting the budget. Dicks said that increases to school staff is important because attracting and keeping good employees in the district is paramount to the success of the district.
Highland School District may not be as fortunate. Interim superintendent Mike Jorgensen said the school district may be looking at having up to $250,000 worth of cuts due to the state funding.
He said the district would be on the budget guarantee, which means the district has lost more enrollment than it brought in, which will result in a slight decrease in the local property tax rate.
?That is to break even,? Jorgensen said of the uts. ?Our reserves are at $1 million, which is good. We want to maintain at least that level of reserves.?
He said while the increase is 1 percent, the state has also raised the contribution level for the school districts to pay IPERS.
He said when that is factored in, the increase is only about .5 percent. Jorgensen said that he is appreciative to the state for the increase, as he originally heard the state had discussed not giving school districts any increase this year.