Facing complaint, Iowa City school district superintendent says budget cuts stand

Music supporters had filed formal complaint

Superintendent candidate Stephen Murley (The Gazette file)
Superintendent candidate Stephen Murley (The Gazette file)

IOWA CITY — The superintendent of the Iowa City Community School District has rejected a formal complaint over a decision to cut district spending by $3.6 million.

The Iowa City Music Auxiliary, a parent organization that supports the district’s music programs, filed the complaint May 22 over budget reductions approved in April that include eliminating a junior high music course and fourth-grade orchestra, as well other programs and activities, starting this fall.

The organization, which said 118 people signed the complaint, asked that the cuts be revised and “farther away from our children.” It listed 11 objections, including its belief that the process lacked transparency and that low-income and minority students will be disproportionately affected.

Superintendent Stephen Murley countered with a five-page response, dated on Friday, addressing each point and saying he stands by the cuts and the process used to reach a decision.

He said the school board received information on the need for budget reductions at a work session in February, discussed the issue at subsequent meetings, and some board members met individually with administrators.

The specific reductions, however, were not shared publicly until a couple of hours before the school board approved the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Murley said in an interview in April that public feedback was not sought over an extended period because administrators did not want to have teachers or parents lobbying for one program over another.

He said then and again Tuesday that reductions had to be made no matter what so saving one program would require cutting another.

In his response to the Music Auxiliary, he also said the cuts affect every school and grade level.

“It is difficult to understand how these reductions could be construed to disproportionately affect low socio-economic status students, students who participate in the Free and Reduced Price Lunch program, or minority students,” Murley wrote.

Some people have argued that cuts to areas like orchestra and seventh-grade football will force students who want to continue to participate to find costlier alternative programs.

Iowa City Music Auxiliary leaders declined to comment or did not return messages during the day Tuesday, saying they had just received Murley’s response the night before.

Murley’s decision can be appealed to the school board. No such request had occurred as of late-afternoon Tuesday, according to the district.

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