Nothing 'off the table' for Iowa City school cuts

Extracurricular activities, course offerings and subject areas are being analyzed, official says

IOWA CITY – The Iowa City Community School District has not yet decided exactly how it is going to cut its spending by $3.6 million, but one official said it will be noticeable to students and parents.

Extracurricular activities, course offerings and even entire subject areas are being analyzed, Craig Hansel, the district’s chief financial official, said Monday.

The district plans to save money primarily by reducing the number of employees it has.

“I can’t believe that people won’t notice the changes next year,” Hansel said. “But like I said, we’re trying to be very compassionate about how we go about this, and logical.”

District administrators are finalizing plans this week and expect to present them to school board April 8. It is the administration’s job to decide what to do, so there will not be a proposal for the board to vote on, but the board can direct the superintendent to make changes, Hansel said.

The cuts are needed to prevent a shortfall in the district’s unspent balance, which is the amount of its authorized budget not spent at the end of the fiscal year.

The Iowa Department of Education told the Iowa City school district earlier this year that it faces a $1.36 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Superintendent Stephen Murley said the district has been spending down its fund balance to hire more teachers as the district’s enrollment continually increases and to keep class sizes down.

Hansel said the district is looking at maintenance and other operational costs to “squeeze some money out of there” before considering student programming and staffing.

But with about 80 percent of its expenses related to personnel, the district plans to reduce its staffing to save money. More than 30 teaching positions are expected to be eliminated, plus an undetermined number of cuts to other employment categories, including support staff and administrators, Murley said.

The goal is to shed employees primarily through attrition. The district offered an incentive to get people to retire early, and there are about 50 employees taking early retirement or otherwise resigning, Murley said.

Layoffs are a possibility because the duties of the people voluntarily leaving may not align with areas where the district will make cuts.

Murley and Hansel said all facets of programming, from core courses to electives, are being reviewed, with building principals playing an active role.

“As the administrators go through this process, there is nothing that has been off the table,” Murley said. “So they’ve looked at every area throughout the district.”

Community members are talking about various courses they heard may be in trouble, but administrators said they couldn’t say what is safe and what is not because no decisions have been made.

“Everything is on the board,” Hansel said. “I can’t tell you there’s a single area we can’t look at.”

Ben Mosher, co-president of the Iowa City Education Association, the teachers union, said rumors are flying among teachers and they’re “very concerned” about what classes they’ll be teaching next year and class sizes.

“We anticipate that some classes and programs will not be offered to the same degree,” he said.

Teachers have not had a voice in the administration’s deliberations and would have liked to, he said.

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