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Cedar Rapids Schools Set $6 Million Budget Target; No Tax Increase

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Administrators in the Cedar Rapids Community School District have their eyes on $6 million.

That's the goal Executive Director of Business Services Steve Graham put before members during Monday's school board meeting. He said administrators are hoping to reach $6 million in the general fund through a combination of reduced costs and more revenue for the fiscal year 2015 budget.

Among the methods for the district to reach this target are the planned schedule changes at the middle-school level, though Graham said the total cost savings of that plan still remains unknown, and the recently announced $5 million the district will receive in 2014-15 from the Iowa Department of Education for teacher leadership.

Graham said some, but not all, of the grant funds will be counted toward that $6 million figure.

"We certainly can't count on the full $5 million because we're going to be adding services through the teacher leadership grant with the vast majority of those dollars," he said. "We're still working on the details of what will be new hires, new services and existing services shifted into the existing funding stream."

Graham is set to present a proposal to the school board in April that would allow the district to secure equipment breakdown insurance.

The premium would be $794,509, though that figure is preliminary and Graham said he's seeking "a more competitive quote," paid out of the management fund.

The current scenario involves a guaranteed 60 percent return, meaning that the district's general fund would receive at least $476,705 to cover the cost of repairing qualified failing equipment.
"That nearly half a million dollars goes a long way to help in our $6 million budget adjustment," he said.

Graham also presented a 2015 fiscal forecast that included an almost flat unspent balance at $4.27 million from to $4.28 million in 2014 and a significant increase in the district's rainy day coffers.

Graham projected that the 2015 budget would include a $15 million fund balance, up from $6.02 million in 2014.

"If you're not in a position of having something out away for a rainy day, it can really hurt you," Graham said of the fund balance.

He noted that a robust fund balance also improves districts' bond ratings.

Board members also approved publishing a 2015 budget with an overall levy rate of $15.48 per $1,000 in taxable valuation, which means that residents will not see an increase in the school district portion of their property taxes for the 2015 fiscal year.

The board scheduled a public hearing for April 14 to precede members' vote to certify the budget by the April 15 deadline, with Graham planning to present a line-item budget for approval in June.
During the April 14 board meeting, members can vote only to maintain or lower the levy rate.

That meeting also will include a public hearing on the 2014 budget, to which board members voted to publish amendments on March 10. They increased dollar amounts in the instruction, total support services, noninstructional programs and total other expenditures categories "simply to avoid exceeding a published budget," Graham said.

The change does not affect property taxes for district residents.

"It doesn't change a thing in terms of what we believe we're going to be spending over the course of the fiscal year," he said.

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