Schools struggle as lawmakers debate budget - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Schools struggle as lawmakers debate budget

Posted: Updated:

State lawmakers are still deadlocked on school funding for the upcoming year, and it has teachers and students hanging in the balance.

Every year, legislators set a funding increase for schools. This year, the Republican-controlled House is pushing a 1.25% increase, while the Democratic Senate wants 4%. By Iowa law, the legislature is required to set funding by mid-April, but no budget has emerged.

That hits smaller districts like Grundy Center especially hard, which already operate with little room to spare.

"We don't know how much we have to spend until afterward," said superintendent Jerry Schutz. "So we have to be cautious sometimes and that creates problems."

He said many smaller districts are already vulnerable, as state aid drops with declining enrollments. It's forced many small-town districts to consolidate into what Schutz calls 'alphabet soup.'

This year, without a budget set -- he's been forced to implement cuts. That means giving teachers preliminary pink slips by the mandated deadline, and then hoping they can be recalled once a budget is set. But it's not a sustainable practice, he said.

“If you offer somebody a pink slip and they decide, ‘Well, you know, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, I need to survive, I need a job ,' they'll go out and get a job elsewhere,” Schutz said.

He said that can mean the loss of talented employees. That's what worries parents like Jill Stumberg.

"We want the small town atmosphere but still want the same opportunities for our children as other communities can offer," she said of her sons, aged 2 and 3.

Just this year, funding shortfalls created issues for their pre-school, which will survive. Schutz said they would have found a way to save it either way.

Still -- seeing the district struggle, she worries about what it would look like when he children reach high school. Schutz said they've had to reduce staffing for Agriculture, P.E. and Art programs. They also nearly had to cut a music teacher.

"I went to school here, I graduated here and it's just hard for me," Stumberg said. "I just expected those thing to be there, so it's hard for me to even imagine that they wouldn't be here."

Still, a silver lining -- Schutz said through creative budgeting, they managed to combine some positions with other school districts, and save some jobs. He also said they use a practice called ‘attrition' to avoid layoffs: allowing teachers to retire, and then waiting to fill their positions. Still, he said losing those bodies in the classroom is tough.

Powered by Frankly