School administrators are feeling the pressure as they try to formulate budgets and deal with teacher contracts while state lawmakers remain divided on the amount of state aid to give schools. Gov. Terry Branstad and the Iowa House of Representatives are standing by 1.25 percent allowable growth to school districts while the Iowa Senate has come down from 6 percent to 4 percent, and about a month ago, 2.65 percent. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement before the end of the legislative session, the allowable growth figure will be 0 percent.
“I think there’s a 50-50 chance to get 1.25 percent,” Oskaloosa Superintendent Russ Reiter said. State financial aid — allowable growth — is vital to school districts to meet expenses such as salaries. Also, school administrators have to look at items such as programs and activities that may be eliminated due to reduced state funding. School districts need 2.25 percent allowable growth to pay salaries, due to the way the salary system is set up, Reiter said. “Over the last six years, we averaged only 2 percent new funding from the state,” Reiter said.
Surrounding states are spending more on education, and Iowa will rank somewhere between 35th and 40th nationally in school funding, he said. Reiter said that teachers, support staff and administrators are feeling the pressure of increasing demands and expectations. The frustration is “where to find the next dime,” Reiter said.“It’s hard to settle with the teachers’ union when we don’t know what we’re going to get,” Reiter said. April 30 was the date that teachers who would be laid off would have received pink slips.
Reiter said one teacher in the Oskaloosa Community School District received a pink slip and there were a couple of other positions that remained unfilled due to the funding impasse, Reiter said. Reiter said that Oskaloosa school officials should have known, by law, the spring of 2014 what funding they would receive for the 2015-2016 school year. That is the third time in six years that school officials across the state did not know what they were going to get, he added.
“We see legislators — Republicans and Democrats — use students as pawns, as bargaining chips, in how to get things done,” Reiter said. “That’s wrong.” Reiter said there is still time for people to contact their state lawmakers about school funding. In fact, Reiter said he just sent another letter to lawmakers about school funding.“I just want the system fixed so we can continue to do our jobs,” Reiter said. “It’s tough making decisions when you don’t know” about funding.
For more on this story, check out today’s Oskaloosa Herald