STC facing over $1 million in budget cuts

Superintendent says no current staff will lose jobs as a result

Citing the twin factors of declining enrollment and the expiration of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds aimed to help school districts through the COVID-19 pandemic, South Tama County Superintendent John Cain proposed just over $1 million in budget cuts to the school board during a recent work session held last Thursday afternoon.

As Cain explained during an interview with the News Chronicle, ESSER was providing around $400,000 in funding that will need to be eliminated or absorbed, and those dollars helped to cover infrastructure items along with other expenses that would generally come out of the general fund. Additionally, enrollment dropped by about 60 students, which amounts to close to $500,000 in per pupil funding. On top of that, one of the largest current classes of over 130 students will be graduating in May, while the incoming kindergarten class looks to be closer to 85.

“With everything else unknown with the AEA and (Supplemental State Aid) from the state and how things are going, I’m hoping this will sustain for a couple of years so we’re not needing to look into this next year. So that’s what we’re trying to get through,” he said.

In breaking down the cuts, Cain said the district already moved from five to four first grade sections this year, and that would be continued into second grade as well as the incoming first grade class. He’s also exploring moving to four kindergarten sections but adding a transitional kindergarten class for students that may not have had a preschool experience or need more time to prepare.

Adjustments to the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) structure and the ESSER funded positions are also on the table, and some jobs, like a music position and some special education positions that the district has not been able to fill, may simply remain unfilled.

Cain has proposed a 10 percent across the board cut in building supplies, noting that the COVID funding was helpful in covering those expenses while it was available. Over the longer term, he said the district is exploring some facility changes like moving the current administration building, which is located in a house across the street from the elementary/high school campus in Tama, to the new middle school campus in Toledo and potentially selling that property a year or so down the road.

Cain said school board members have worked with staff at each of the district’s three buildings to hear their concerns and input, and last Thursday’s work session was a chance to “process” the information presented. He isn’t sure if official action will be taken at the next regular board meeting on Feb. 20, but he anticipates it being decided on by early March.

“Sometimes, it’s nice to reach a conclusion so you can bring closure to some things instead of having it hang into a couple more weeks,” Cain said. “The nice thing about this is with our cuts, which we’re calling kind of a restructure, it’s not going to impact anybody’s actual position. We’re fortunate enough that through early retirement and through some of our unfilled positions, we’re able to absorb these and move some people around. So we’re able to save everyone’s position… We feel that’s a positive to all of this.’

The district’s voters will have a chance to decide on reinstating the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) on March 5, but Cain clarified that those dollars only go to safety, technology and infrastructure. The cuts being proposed would all be in the general fund.

“The PPEL funding is not able to be used for salaries. It would allow us to continue to utilize our general fund the way we intend to use our general fund, but really, (they’re) two separate entities in the sense that it’s a tax that’s going to be able to help us with infrastructure,” Cain said. “And PPEL is very specific to buildings, new buildings and improvements, and we are focused on the improvement piece as it relates to PPEL.”