Roland-Story officials weigh in on school funding

Todd ThorsonStaff Writertthorson@storycityherald.com

The Legislature’s approval of 2.25 percent for school funding is not enough, and could push class sizes higher and threaten some programs, local and state school officials said.

The Legislature agreed to a 2.25 percent increase in state funding last month, but questions remain if it will be enough to keep schools operating at their current level.

“The 2.25 percent in supplemental state aid for FY 2017 will add $240,000 to our district’s budget for next school year,” said Matt Patton, superintendent of the Roland-Story school district. “While we appreciate the legislature reaching an agreement above the 1.25 percent last year, this is still far less than the $315,000, or 3.5 percent, that is needed for the district to meet its financial obligations for next school year.”

The 2.25 percent will allocate more than $88 million more in state funding for regular school aid. From a local perspective, that amounts to a growth of $145 per student. After the Legislature ratified the education funding bills on March 23, it left only Gov. Terry Branstad’s signature to make it official. He is expected to review and sign the bills soon.

The funding measure is a 1.25 percent increase over last year, when lawmakers approved school funding, or allowable growth after the April 15 deadline for district’s to submit their budgets for approval.

The state budget is expected to have $176.7 million in new revenue this year compared to last year, and $153 million of that revenue is going to Iowa schools. That’s approximately 87 percent of all new state revenue being allocated for education.

Prior to reaching the 2.25 percent increase amount earlier in the session, compromises in both the House and Senate had to be met. The Democratic-controlled Senate had earlier approved a 4 percent increase in education funds. The Republican-controlled House approved a 2 percent increase. Branstad wanted a 2.45 percent increase.

But unfortunately, according to Lisa Bartusek, Executive Director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, schools facing enrollment shifts will continue to be impacted by the agreed upon funding allotment: “Seventy-two districts will see no growth or a decline in regular school aid,” she said in a news release following the Legislature’s decision. “Another 134 will receive less than 2.25 percent growth in regular school aid funding.”

Patton said that Roland-Story will also be affected due to the lack of adequate funds, saying all schools in the district will face “larger than desirable class sizes.”

He said the insufficient funding level will result in the reduction of the half-time teaching position that was recently added to lower class sizes in math, and cause some middle school and high school classrooms to have more than 30 students.

Despite the inevitable result of larger classes, Patton said Roland-Story will continue to make smaller class sizes a high priority for the district.

Along with Patton, Roland-Story School Board President Mike Retallick had his concerns too: “While the district appreciates any additional funding from the state, the last several years have been challenging. State support has not kept up with our growing needs and increased costs, which has limited what we can do as a board.”

Retallick also said how difficult it has been in the past with budgeting and planning for each new school year because the Legislature has been late with approving school aid.

“Without adequate funding, we can’t afford to hire the staff to address these issues,” Retallick said. “It’s frustrating and disappointing that our state leaders no longer see education as a public good. With state revenue growing by 6 percent last year and an estimated 4 percent next year, and schools only receiving 1.25 percent and 2.25 percent increases the last two years, it’s evident that our state leaders no longer place a high value on education.”

Iowa State Education Association President Tammy Wawro also said in a statement what the affect state aid will have on programs, particularly for assessments and the Reading Recovery program.

She said the lack of money will “continue to starve our schools and force them to make choices that will negatively impact students.”

Overall, the entire K-12 school funding package in Iowa will be over $3 billion.

With less funds to work with, districts, including Roland-Story, will have to tighten their budgets, and do the best they can with what is given them.

“Regardless of the challenges we face, now or in the future, Roland-Story will continue to provide an excellent education experience for the students and families we serve,” said Patton, the district’s superintendent.