Allowable Growth Debate’s Effect on Oskaloosa Schools

 

The Iowa Capitol

The Iowa Capitol

by Aaron Riggs

Some slow decisions at the statehouse are effecting local school districts. During this time of the year, school superintendents are busy working on next year’s budget. By law, local school boards are required to certify their budgets by April 15th. But that’s after it’s first presented to the public in the middle of March. In order to complete a budget, districts need to know how much money they have to work with, but right now, that’s still up in the air.

Legislators determine how much funding a school district will receive by setting a cost per student. The current cost per student is $6,001, meaning that for the 2,396 students enrolled in the Oskaloosa Community School District this year: the district received about $14.4 million from the state. That makes up about 60% of the district’s total budget. But as costs rise such as energy costs or teachers pay, so too does the amount budgeted. That’s where Allowable Growth comes in.

“Allowable growth really is the percentage set by the state that allows us to either grow our budgets by a certain percentage, now in the last three years we’ve receved 2%, 0%, and 2% which are the lowest three numbers in over thirty years. So we’re starting to really.. our budgets are really starting to feel that. So currently, if our students are worth 6,001 dollar a piece if the allowable growth goes up to 4% it allows us to grow our budgets up to 4%, however that’s coupled with enrollment we are only allowed to receive the dollar amount based upon our enrollment, so if our enrollment goes down 2% and they give us 2% allowable growth, we actually get the same amount of money. And so we’re going to try and do the same things we did last year with the same amount of money and how do you give raises to teachers, and how do you give raises and how do you take care of energy increase in cost so, allowable growth can be a little tricky in that everybody believes 4% you’re automatically going to get 4% new money, no, it’s all still based upon your enrollment and whether you’re going to get new kids less kids or the same number of kids,” says Russ Reiter, Superintendent of Oskaloosa Schools.

So far the district is basing next year’s budget on an enrollment of 2,388 students which is 8 students less than the current year. So if the legislature passes 0% allowable growth, the district will receive $48,000 less. But if the legislature passes 4% allowable growth that grows the amount received per student to $6,241. That would be more than enough to cover the loss from the decreased enrollment. The only problem is, the legislators haven’t decided what to set allowable growth at which puts stress on districts that need to know how much money they have to work with.

“Schools currently are saying, please let us know what we’re going to have our allowable growth be because, we have budgets that are due, by law, by April 15th and the state hasn’t determined how much money we’re going to have,” says Reiter.

Legislators will need to pass at least 2% allowable growth for Oskaloosa Schools to be funded at the same level they were this year. But if lawmakers go with 0% allowable growth, then the school board has the authority to raise local property taxes to make up the difference. They do that through what’s called a Budget Guarantee, which board members approved last Tuesday.

“In order for us to meet our budget we may have to vary our levy and rate just a bit to make sure we can obtain the necessary funds, so the higher the allowable growth, the less we might ask for within property taxes. Of course the more money we’re receiving through allowable growth whether it be 4% 5% that will determine how much we might end up having to raise local property taxes, and I’m trying to do whatever I can to keep those down,” says Reiter.

The democrat controlled senate has already approved 4% allowable growth. The republican controlled House of Representatives is waiting to pass any allowable growth bill. They first want to consider more of Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform bill.

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