School Board Discusses Reduction Plan
Facing challenging financial decisions, the Fort Dodge School Board discussed a plan to reduce 1.8 million dollars Monday evening.
Superintendent Dr. Doug Van Zyl said the budget shortfall is largely due to three factors: zero percent allowable growth in education funding for 2012-2013, a loss of 327 students over the past three years, and increased expenditures around the board.
The zero percent allowable growth comes from an Iowa House passed vote in February 2011. The House voted down an amendment that would have set the allowable growth rate at 2 percent. According to the Des Moines Register, the difference between zero percent and 2 percent is $65 million for Iowa schools this year.
Van Zyl commented that the trending loss of students is due to many factors that the District is examining, some of these factors include family relocation and open enrollment out of the District.
Unfortunately, Van Zyl said this will not be the last year the District discusses reductions. Since the school’s budget is always a year behind, the District is proactively looking at a 2-3 percent reduction next year and possibly some reductions the following year.
Monday’s meeting allowed for discussion on the proposed reduction plan. “This meeting is not a finality to anything,” clarified Board Member Matt Waggoner. “It is a vote so the District can move forward with the reduction notification process.”
“Where we are financially, we must make very difficult decisions that are very painful,” said Board President Stu Cochrane. “There is no wrong or right. We have to cut $1.8 million and 80 percent of our budget is staff.”
The proposed reduction plan includes 1.9 million in savings. Van Zyl said the District put every area under the microscope and developed the plan by considering three central factors: what must be offered by law, which takes into account areas that require specific certification and licensure, how many students a program or area impacts, and the amount of dollar savings.
“By policy, we try to do as much as we can first through attrition,” said Van Zyl. The Board of Education offered an early retirement incentive previously this year. Through retirements and leaves the District was able to restructure to save $152,396 in administration costs alone.
The plan also includes cutting five elementary teaching positions, three of which will be reduced through retirements.
“Through the decline of enrollment, we have the ability to restructure,” said Van Zyl. “We will still be able to stay within the class size target that was set, which is projected at 25 across the board.”
Community members filled the board room to express concerns and questions, many of which voiced their support for the orchestra and German and Russian world language programs.
“All of these items are needed things, but they could be restructured to make some changes so we still offer the best for kids,” said Van Zyl. “Even if we don’t cut one of these specific items, another item will be cut. It’s a give and take situation. We’re not fat by any means.”
Cochrane suggested that orchestra not be on the chopping block but added, “I want to make it clear that no program is more important than the other.”
Agreeing with Cochrane, Board Member Jan Merz said, “The program is the program. I think the community has spoken.”
The Board approved that the District move forward with their reduction notification process with the exception that orchestra be removed from the reductions.
To limit the amount of necessary cuts, the Board also discussed re-opening the early retirement offering if legalities permit.
“If a few more people take that, we could save a program or a position,” said Board Member Kevin Rogers referring to the early retirement package. “I would feel better about the decisions we have to make, knowing we turned over every stone.”
The Board approved to re-open the early retirement incentive to all employee groups. However, regulated statues must first be worked out before the offering can be made available. Van Zyl said the District will notify all individuals who qualify and keep communication open.
Other questions at Monday’s Board of Education meeting addressed the financial investment of the new middle school. Van Zyl clarified that improvements or the purchase of grounds are paid for through the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), which may only be used for those purposes specified by Iowa law. State law clearly outlines that PPEL may not be used for items such as salary.
Cochrane also questioned the dollar amount that could be generated from the cut of seventh grade athletics. Van Zyl said the District’s seventh grade athletics are paid for through an endowment referred to as the Pontius fund. Given each year to the Fort Dodge School District Foundation, this endowment is used to cover a significant portion of seventh grade athletic costs. The District’s reduction plan does cut approximately 50,000 dollars from the athletic and activity budget. The savings are derived from assistant coaching positions.
Van Zyl said the District is examining new ways to generate revenue such as online courses and partnerships with surrounding districts. Van Zyl said sharing certain programs would be beneficial to not only Fort Dodge schools but surrounding districts as well.
The Board also discussed changing Riverside from a PreK-4 building to an Early Learning Center. With this idea, Riverside would house the District’s preschool and transitional kindergarten classes. The District predicts that this proposal will save money by consolidating preschool and transitional kindergarten programs that are spread throughout the District, saving some transportation, staffing, and materials and supplies costs.
According to the District, the Early Learning Center plan will be cost effective and provide excellent opportunities for early learning students, staff, and families. Van Zyl said this proposal would also free up available classrooms in other elementary schools, which would allow for growth. The District plans to have meetings with staff, parents, and community members in May to gather community input and hold discussions on this proposal.
“The reduction plan is not an easy process for anyone,” said Van Zyl. “It creates challenges, but we’ll do everything we can to make sure everyone knows where we’re at in the process.”
The District held an internal meeting Tuesday to answer questions or concerns from staff members. Community meetings will also be scheduled in early May to seek input and answer questions.
For questions or concerns, please click on Contact Us to submit an inquiry. The District welcomes and encourages input and will continue to post updates on the reduction plan as the process unfolds.