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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 31, 2014

Funding uncertainty leads to teacher layoffs

By MACKENZIE ELMER | May 03, 2013

DES MOINES (AP) — School districts throughout Iowa are sending layoff notices to teachers, in part because administrators said state legislators haven't given them the fundraising certainty they need to plan their budgets.

The Iowa Association of School Boards said at least 83 teachers have been sent layoff notices, and that the total number likely is far higher.

"Easily 150 to 250 layoff notices will be handed out to teachers because of the Legislature not nailing down allowable growth," said Galen Howsare, the association's deputy executive director and chief financial officer.

Allowable growth is the increase to general school funding approved each year by the Legislature and governor. It's supposed to be approved a year in advance, but the Legislature hasn't abided by the rule recently and this year hasn't even approved a funding level for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Howsare said the association did a survey of Iowa's 348 districts last week to arrive at the 83 layoff notices, but most districts didn't respond.

The layoff notices don't necessarily mean all those teachers will lose their jobs. That depends on the general school funding the Legislature approves — hopefully before yearly teacher contracts are up June 30.

But districts must send out layoff notices by April 30 if they want to retain the right to dismiss teachers.

"Local board administrators only do this when so many things are beyond their control that they absolutely think they have to," Howsare said.

Districts with declining enrollment and low funding reserves typically are the ones considering laying off teachers.

That's the situation at Wapello Community Schools, where Superintendent Mike Peterson said the southeast Iowa district has sent layoff notices to two elementary teachers and seven classroom aides. The district hopes the Legislature approves enough funding so officials won't have to carry out those firings.

"It's an unfortunate thing to try and build a budget when you don't know how much you're working with," Peterson said.

To avoid the layoffs, the district must receive more than the 2 percent allowable growth that was the basis for its budget, based off an early proposal by House Republicans.

"We felt safe 2 percent was the lowest it would get," he said.

Gary O'Malley, deputy superintendent of Cedar Rapids Community School District, said officials are facing declining enrollment and unpredictable state funding at a time when the district already has overspent its reserves. As a result, the district plans to cut $4.4 million from its budget, which will require eliminating 24 teaching positions and 25 support positions by not filling jobs opened through retirements or resignations.

"We can no longer depend on the Legislature to provide the allowable growth that's been promised," O'Malley said. "Class sizes will go up and programs will eventually suffer because of the lack of support we get from the Legislature at a time when we need it the most."

In the Iowa City Community School District, Superintendent Stephen Murley said 300 to 500 additional students are expected next year, but the district won't hire extra teachers unless the state approves at least a 3 percent funding increase. If funding is less, the district won't fire teachers, but it will cut costs from its operations budget or eliminate support staff, such as custodians and secretaries.

"We're at the point where, in all honesty, we can't afford to not have teachers on staff," Murley said.

Randy Richardson, associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents about 34,000 teachers, support staff and other educators, blamed lawmakers for forcing districts to make unnecessary staffing decisions during a year when the state has a budget surplus.

"Teachers’ lives are being upset," he said. "This year we have plenty of resources and the law is very clear on when (the funding) is supposed to be set."

This year, general school funding has been mired in larger discussions about Gov. Terry Branstad's proposed education reforms, which seek to change how teachers are trained and paid. Democrats have sought to address the issue of general funding and reforms separately, but Republicans have argued the two issues are closely linked and should be debated together.

The matter is now being discussed in a committee made up of House and Senate members.

"The situation that they're faced with was why we insisted all the way along this session that we should do allowable growth first and get it done as a separate bill," said Ames Democratic Sen. Herman Quirmbach, who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "Unfortunately the rest of the people in this building didn't cooperate with us on achieving that and that's why local districts are in the fix that they're in."

Rep. Ron Jorgensen, the chairman of the House Education Committee, said Republicans tied allowable growth to education reform following the governor's recommendation.

"They're linked in our mind," said Jorgensen, R-Sioux City.

 

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