Several programs to be cut in Iowa City schools

Music, foreign language and football among those targeted

The new Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in the former press citizen building Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)
The new Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in the former press citizen building Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Community School District will eliminate foreign language classes and football for seventh-graders, alter music offerings, increase class sizes and make more changes as it cuts $3.6 million from its budget.

District administrators last night laid out a plan they said they have worked on since last fall at a work session with the school board. It was the first time they publicly revealed the cuts, however.

The reductions run across the district, from classrooms to athletics to busing.

In discussing their reasons for each move, administrators told school board members that their primary goal was to minimize the effect on classroom learning. But they acknowledged the decisions were tough.

“We had a position in front of us where we had to make the least negative choices,” Superintendent Stephen Murley 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 district would have a $1.36 million budget deficit in the fiscal year that starts July 1 if it doesn’t act.

The remainder needed to reach the $3.6 million amount will build up the district’s unspent balance in the coming years.

In terms of the elimination of offerings, seventh-graders arguably face the biggest changes with the loss of foreign language and football.

Foreign language — German, French and Spanish — is one of just two electives they could take, along with performance music, which is band, orchestra or chorus. The district is phasing out German as a foreign-language option for all grades. Current high school students will be allowed to complete their studies.

Junior high school students also no longer will be offered what are known as general music courses, although band, orchestra and chorus will remain.

District officials also will shift the year that students can start taking orchestra from fourth-grade to fifth-grade and also will make class sizes larger.

The changes to the music programs got the most attention from the crowd of a few dozen people in attendance.

Mara Goodvin, president of the Iowa City Music Auxiliary, a parent organization that supports the district’s music programs, said the district is recognized nationally for its music education.

“Cutting a year from the orchestra program is not a budget adjustment,” she said, using the term administrators applied to the process. “Rather, it is devastation.”

An increase in the number of students in classes will be one outcome of the cuts, although administrators say it’s the smallest classes they will target.

No layoffs are required to achieve the budget reductions. The district is eliminating about 30 positions through attrition.

Board members Patti Fields and Tuyet Dorau questioned whether district-level administrators took enough of a hit. The only change there was to keep the director of community relations position vacant. Someone else already has taken on those duties.

Murley said the district has added two administrative positions the past four years, and one of those is to be eliminated.

Other cuts include meals provided to staff that are not contractually required and three discretionary bus routes that serve about 150 Garner Elementary students.

School board members and administrators talked about measuring the impact of the cuts and how to determine whether some programs can be restored if finances allow in the future.

“Experience says that most of the time when things are cut they don’t come back,” Fields said.

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