School districts feel pinch of budget cuts - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

School districts feel pinch of budget cuts

HUDSON (KWWL) - Iowa Governor Chet Culver has ordered a 10% across the board cut to state government spending.  Culver ordered the cuts after the revenue estimating conference projected a $414 million shortfall.  However, the cuts will equal a $600 million reduction.  No government agency is safe from cuts.  The Department of Natural Resources, Workforce Development, Corrections, and the Dept. of Education is losing more than $265 million.  The cuts may be felt for years to come.  It's not clear exactly what programs may be cut or how many jobs will be lost but every department is affected.  And those effects could be felt for years.  Local school district leaders say they'll dip into their reserves to cover the shortfall this year but next year, deep cuts may have to be taken.

Roark Horn is the superintendent of Hudson Community Schools.  The district's relatively small, with 750 students and 50 teachers.  A 10% cut means more than $300 thousand will have to be paid for by cash reserves.

"I don't know any public education organization that can withstand something like that and not have it affect the education of their kids. We've been in this situation for a while. Things have not been pretty as budgets go for quite a while through the whole decade. To have it happen now is quite a challenge," said Horn.

A 10% cut is much higher than Horn or many others anticipated.  Governor Culver says it's to protect against possible shortfalls in coming months.

"Our state is faced with simple but painful choices: To increase taxes, cut spending or both. I have been clear on this. I believe now is not the time to raise taxes on hard-working Iowans," said Gov. Culver.

In Waterloo, Superintendent Gary Norris says the district is looking at a nearly $6 million shortfall.  Cedar Rapids Schools will deal with $8.4 million less.  Both districts say they'll dip into cash reserves.  Horn says his district has support from parents and boosters and hopes budget problems don't mean a property tax hike down the line.

"If you put a poor teacher in a classroom with excellent resources, you're probably not going to have good learning but if you put an outstanding teacher in a classroom, even if you have to limit the resources, you're still going to have great learning," said Horn.

Horn and other superintendents say about 80% or more of their budget is tied to salaries.  That's why any more cuts could lead to job cuts for teachers and other staff positions.  Most school districts are prevented from laying off workers in the middle of the budget year.  The hard decisions may have to be made during planning for next year's budget in the spring.

Online Reporter:  Bob Waters

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