Budget cuts in Cedar Rapids school district's near future

But talk of specifying cuts is 'premature,' district business director says

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The message that came out of Monday night’s Cedar Rapids Community School District school board meeting is clear: The clock is up.

“We have to find authorized revenues or we have to reduce expenses, or a combination of those two things,” said Executive Director of Business Services Steve Graham as he presented preliminary budget assumptions for fiscal year 2014.

In the past, the district has relied on the district’s unspent balance to make up for missed reduction targets. But with the district’s unspent balance at its lowest point in eight years, administrators said those days are over.

In fiscal 2012, the district only reduced 7.72 of 26 requested full-time equivalent reductions. The following fiscal year, the target was 46.425 reductions and the district actually added 16 FTE, resulting in $3.03 million in unrealized savings.

“We are driving a very complicated college preparatory and career readiness program at our senior highs,” said Superintendent Dave Benson. “We’ve been reluctant to cut programming as long as the unspent balance has been around to cover it. We will have to have more austerity moving forward.”

The district’s unspent balance is now at ­­­­$11 million, down $8.75 million from the previous fiscal year. Adding to budget woes are continued declining certified enrollment – forecast at .75 percent, or 126 fewer students – which could mean little to no new money.

Graham said the most important thing is allowable growth, the amount school districts’ budgets can increase annually. He is holding out hope that legislators will OK 4 percent allowable growth for the coming fiscal year, which could mean $3.24 million in additional money for the district.

In Benson’s estimation, it’s time for the board to be proactive.

“We have bought all the time that we can reasonably buy, and I don’t think that a rational person can look at Des Moines and think that we’re going to be saved by some infusion of new revenue,” he said.

Gov. Branstad is already on the record advocating for the elimination of allowable growth in favor of an as-yet undefined new funding source.

Graham said it is "premature" to discuss where those potential cuts will come from in the district's budget.

"We have not yet begun the process of looking at our overall programming," he said.

State law mandates that districts certify their final fiscal 2014 budgets by April 15, 2013.

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