Budget Cuts Hit City High

Cuts in government funds means the Iowa City Community School District will slash its budget for the next school year by millions of dollars

Shoshie Hemley, Reporter

Without the necessary funds from the state government to deal with the growing expenses of the Iowa City Community School District, the 2019-2020 school year will be expecting a five million dollar funding cut for next school year. The cuts will be made to funding for staffing; physical projects, such as the renovations, will not be affected.

“84 cents out of every dollar goes to somebody in the district,” Superintendent Stephen Murley said. “So most of budget goes to certified staff, teachers, or care professionals in the class.”

Due to statewide lack of funding for the growing expenses of the district, certain changes will be implemented. The district has been encouraging teachers to take advantage of an early retirement program being offered. The program targets teachers and staff who will be at least 55 by June 30th, 2019 and who have been teaching with the district for a certain amount of years, at least 7 consecutively. The offer is a year’s worth of salary being paid after retirement as well as the district’s health insurance until the retiree is age 65. The retired teachers will then be replaced by teachers new to the career who will be earning a lower salary. Every year, teachers’ salaries grow. Older teachers who can qualify to retire will tend to have been working within the district for longer than younger teachers. The older teachers will be earning higher salaries, so if the district can replace them with younger teachers earning less, they can save a significant portion of the five million dollars.

“The district is going to make every effort to keep these changes away from the classroom, away from those direct services to kids. Whether or not that’s going to be possible, I think that remains to be seen,” Principal John Bacon said.

Until the district knows how many employees will be retiring early, the district will be unable to know how much more will be needed to cut. Without this knowledge, the direct effect it will have on City High students is unknown. If not enough staff retires for a significant portion of the five million dollars to be saved, than the cuts will be felt more directly  at a classroom level. Some anticipated changes are potentially larger classroom sizes district-wide on both the elementary and secondary levels, as well as some electives with low enrollment might be put on hold.

“If we have to make cuts at the building-level staffing, that’s going to be problematic and difficult. It’s my great hope that we are going to be successful at creating a plan to keep it away from having to do that,” Bacon said.

The state of Iowa has given the district 1% in supplemental aid, which is unable to keep up with the growing district. The district’s growing costs are higher than the funding being given by the state, resulting in the cuts.

While many district teachers understand the cuts, they are still disappointed with the loss of long time teachers.

“I’ll be sorry not to have their knowledge and experience around because I feel like I’m still learning from them. But I mean, I understand if the district needs to stay in business, then sometimes we have to do things, but it’ll be a loss to lose all the knowledge and experience,” a long time ICCSD teacher said.

She later stated, “I don’t want [to sound like I’m] putting down young teachers, because they are amazing, and they know things, and they make us all better teachers. But also there’s a lot of really great experienced teachers out there who are leaving the district because of this incentive.”

However, not everyone who was offered the incentive is taking it for varying reasons.

“As long as I have something to offer the students. I want to keep [teaching] as long as I can. It gives meaning to my life,” the same long time ICCSD teacher said.

Although this may seem nerve wracking to district employees, Murley believes that the local legislature has the situation under control and are aware of the issues, and Bacon believes that the surrounding community supports the need of education.

“By and large, the Iowa City area is represented by people that typically have a strong commitment to public education funding,” Bacon said. “Unfortunately, in other parts of the state, there’s opposition to that and I think that in terms of why there hasn’t been funding for public education at a higher level, I’m not sure I would look at the Iowa City contingent of the state legislature and point the finger at them.”

Some students believe that public education needs to be prioritized by the state government.  

“It seems like they’re not prioritizing what we need efficiently,” Kate Wolfe ‘21 said. “We’re going to be the future. It’s obviously what everyone says, but it’s true. We need education because we’re going to be the next lawmakers, the next government. It’s just necessary.”

Bacon agrees that the state government needs to focus more funding on public education.

“When I was a kid, the motto in the state of Iowa was ‘a place to grow,’ and I thought that was the most beautiful motto. It’s the two things we do really well. It’s kind of a double meaning. It’s a place to grow corn and farming,and it’s also a place to grow families. It’s a place to grow young people,” Bacon said. “We might not have an ocean in the state of iowa and we might not have an NFL football team or a mountain range or a super big city but we have always had in this state a great commitment to being a great place to raise your family.”

He believes that the state of Iowa needs strong funding for public education in order to continue being a “place to grow”.

“[Public education is] one thing that the state of iowa should just take care of at the highest possible level. We can not sacrifice our public schools in this state. Its an invaluable resource that we have,” Bacon said.

The next steps for the district remain unknown until the district is aware of how much needs to be cut. Whether or not future cuts will need to be made depends on the state government.

“Believe me, I fight hard for this school. That’s the bottom line. I fight hard for City High when it comes to advocating for what’s best for this building,”  Bacon said. “So I will go into the process doing everything possible to keep budget cuts as far away from direct services to students as humanly possible, I can promise you that.”