There will be no $27 million bond referendum in March to renovate Charles City High School.
There will be cuts to the district’s music, business and at-risk programs.
That is where the Charles City School District stands today, following the School Board’s vote 3-2 Monday night to support a package of staff cuts and other expenditure reductions to try to make up an anticipated operating budget deficit of $758,470 next school year. After that vote, the Board heard a report on the failed petition drive for the bond referendum.
“We did not achieve our desired amount, required amount rather, so we will not be moving forward with a bond referendum at this time,” said Superintendent Dr. Ann Lundquist. “There is potential for a fall referendum if that’s the community’s desire.”
The referendum would have sought voter permission to borrow $27 million to renovate the high school, which included adding an 800-seat auditorium. The project would have addressed existing mechanical system problems as well.
Most of Monday’s meeting, however, was spent on choosing a path to address the expected budget deficit for the 2023-2024 school year. The split board chose to go with an option that does not seek a tax rate increase. It includes cuts to the district music, business education and at-risk programs.
Board President Pat Rottinghaus, Vice President Kathryn Fox and Dr. David Schrodt voted in favor of the package. Janiece Bergland and Josh Mack voted against.
Shrodt encouraged the board to be “responsible” within today’s environment of falling student numbers and to not raise taxes.
“We have to be responsible. We have to balance the budget,” Shrodt said. “I don’t think that raising income’s always the way to do that, but by raising taxes to get income is not a good option. Our school enrollment is down and it is going to stay down. We’re not going to go back up to the high numbers …”
“It’s not fair in my mind to try to leave everything the same when the student numbers are going down,” Shrodt said. “At some point in time things have to change. To me it’s always better to do that when we are presented with the problem as opposed to later on when you are really up against the wall and forced to do that.”
Members of the general public have spoken out at multiple meetings, including Monday, against cutting teachers, and Mack identified those cuts as directly impacting students. However, Board members supporting this package say schedule changes will make the teacher cuts work.
“We had seen some schedules where that could work,” said Rottinghaus. “(There’s) some impact to students, but its not as much as I think people think.”
“It’ll be actually entirely possible and probable that it will even be more efficient,” said Schrodt.
Berglund said she did not support cutting music, and actually wanted to expand musical education.
Shrodt made the motion to approve what was labeled as Option B with some amendments, including changing a cut of a “high school assistant principal” to a “building administrator” and making that cut contingent on what happens with school funding at the Iowa Legislature, teacher contract negotiations and retirements.
The cuts the Board voted to support, with anticipated savings in parentheses, are:
- Bus route adjustment ($59,875.20)
- Operations position reclassification ($20,000)
- Eliminate summer workers ($30,000)
- Middle school teacher leadership position ($84,682)
- Central Services reclassification ($45,384)
- Middle school special education reclassification ($59,000)
- Middle school general education to Talent and Gifted – 50% – ($38,921.36)
- At-risk coordinator ($53,049.12)
- Business teacher (85,497)
- Middle school music program adjustment ($54,351)
- Library aid paras reclassification to 50% Special Education ($49,987)
- Director of communications ($60,366)
Other options included property tax increases as well as cuts.
“Cuts are not easy,” said Rottinghaus, “and anywhere we cut affects someone somewhere somehow. I think that the administration and Anne have worked hard. We received some sample scheduling that could happen if we cut a business teacher, even if we cut a music teacher … yes there will be more responsibilities, but I would hope, and I think I know, our staff to be professional enough that shouldering a little more responsibility will not affect their co- and extra-curricular activities. I think I know you well enough to know that that won’t happen. And just because we have to do something now doesn’t mean it has to be forever.”
Whether the Board will increase property taxes might still be a question. Districts are awaiting the Legislature’s decision on the amount of school funding it will approve.
The district is also waiting on retirement decisions, through which it could see savings with lower-cost new teachers.