Clinton School District finalizes budget

Brenden West/Clinton HeraldFormer Clinton School board member Lester Shields wears a “We Pay More” T-shirt during Monday’s school board meeting. Delivering an address to the board and spectators, Shields criticized Iowa lawmakers for lackluster state funding, one of the reasons why Clinton schools approved a tax rate that will likely change this June.

CLINTON — The Clinton School District’s tax levy is going to look a little higher than it should be. That’s because district board members approved a budget reflecting zero percent in state supplemental aid.

While Iowa legislators continue to debate where SSA (formerly allowable growth) should be set, districts throughout the state need to meet the April 15 deadline for their certified budgets. In the case of the Clinton School District, the safest bet was to anticipate no increase in aid, though district business manager Cindy McAleer is confident lawmakers will come up with some form of funding.

“It does make it difficult for planning purposes next year,” McAleer said Monday following the regular monthly board meeting. “At this point we’re hoping it’s at least 2 percent. We just hope we get something.”

CSD’s 2014-15 tax rate is starting off at $16.945 per $1,000 in assessed property valuation, approved unanimously during the meeting. This reflects several months of deliberating by the board — including the heavily debated $1.2 million general fund reduction. Overall, the district will spend $52 million, compared to $66.7 million in 2014.

Legislators have tossed around several SSA percentages — between 1 and 4 percent, McAleer said. If there is a percentage, it will lower CCD’s 2014-15 tax asking.

Educators and boards throughout Iowa aren’t expecting to know until June, however, so many are setting their rates on the high side and proposing to lower their levies when the percentage is known.

“It’s challenging because we’re setting our tax rate based on zero percent,” McAleer said. “It would be nice to know what our tax rate will actually be. At this point we don’t know because we don’t know supplemental state aid. But the biggest issue is, at this point, we don’t know what we’re allowed to spend per student this school year.

“We made reductions based on overspending last year, but if we would know we’re going to get zero percent funding increase we would have made more reductions.”

For Clinton schools, the budget still comes with a financial loss. During Monday’s meeting, the board also approved terminations of four employees, a reflection of the general fund reduction.

Superintendent Deb Olson said the district is trying to help those workers find other employment. Some were eliminated based on seniority; others have been able to find other work.

“All of those folks are all very good teachers,” Olson said during the meeting. “It has nothing to do with their teaching abilities... Unfortunately, we are under financial difficulties.”

The general public has also taken notice of the fiscal woes. Former board member Lester Shields attended the meeting and delivered a 15-minute presentation about how state aid is putting schools like Clinton in a bind. Losing out are the students.

Board members unanimously passed both the budget and the terminations. Given the current state-aid limbo, some did so with hesitation.

“I don’t see any movement on this,” board member Gregg Obren said. 

Assistant Editor Brenden West can be contacted at brendenwest@clintonherald.com 

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