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Cedar Rapids School District Shows First Look at 2015 Budget

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A Monday work session shed light on where Cedar Rapids Community School District administrators hope to find almost $6 million to eliminate from the fiscal year 2015 general fund budget. 

The largest potential cut in terms of workforce is the projected 26.25 full-time equivalent (FTE) instructional positions that will be eliminated through a previously announced plan to put Harding, McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft middle schools onto the same eight-period daily schedules as Wilson and Franklin beginning this fall. That change is forecast to save $1.95 million. 

“All of the teaching positions that are being affected are being lost due to attrition. Those people, for their teaching assignments, they will find homes,” said Superintendent Dave Benson. “We believe we have vacancies. We can accommodate everybody and they will be accommodated. That’s my personal pledge to our faculty.”

The biggest single savings in the package is the $2.53 million administrators anticipate accruing by reassigning 33.9 FTE teacher leaders using state funds from the first round of the three-year Teacher Leadership and Compensation System grant, announced in March. 

The plan also includes recommendations to eliminate 4 FTE instructors at the district’s high schools for an estimated $297,640 in savings and a 1.8 FTE cut in art, music and library positions at the elementary- and middle-school levels anticipated to save $133,938. 

Board members discussed the plan during Monday’s work session and while many of the directors asked questions, none raised outright objections. 

“I think the board’s primary concern is to protect programs and teaching positions,” said Board President Mary Meisterling, who said she found “no problems” with the adjustment proposal. 

Changes likely will occur outside of the classroom as well. The slate includes a 4.5 percent or $133,392 decrease in co-curricular activity positions and a 0.5 FTE or $42,205 cut at the district’s central office, the Educational Leadership and Support Center. Specific details on which programs will be affected was not available last night, but Meisterling said that information would likely come out in the next few weeks. 

The plan includes good news for Iowa BIG (of which The Gazette’s parent, The Gazette Company, is a financial partner), magnet schools, project-based learning and the elementary Spanish programs. The list allocates 4 additional FTE positions and $403,601 in new spending for those initiatives. 

Earlier Monday evening, Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering delivered an update on Innovation Education Initiatives, which includes Iowa BIG. The program will expand to half-days and partner fully with the College Community School District, pending board approval, in 2014-15. In addition, Pickering said administrators will recommend that Johnson School of the Arts become Cedar Rapids’ first magnet school, focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and math content.  

Steve Graham, executive director of business services for the district, presented the general fund plan Monday. Administrators will meet with Benson to discuss the board’s feedback and begin compiling the line-item budget in time for the July 1 start of the 2015 fiscal year.

“This is a work in progress,” Graham said.

Board members voted 6-1, with Gary Anhalt in opposition because he felt it was not fiscally responsible, to enroll the district in Specialty Underwriters’ Equipment Breakdown Insurance Program. It covers repair and replacement of district equipment, such as laptops and tablets, in 57 categories. The $796,390 cost of the one-year premium will come from the management fund, which is funded through taxpayer dollars, and $517,654 in revenue from participating in the program will go to the general fund.

“I still have this underlying problem of spending money to save money,” said Board Member Ann Rosenthal, who said she saw the program as a trade-off to fund the district’s innovative program initiatives. Fellow directors John Laverty and Nancy Humbles agreed.

“I’d rather do this than cut music or some of our other things,” Rosenthal said. 

For a look at the proposed budget, click here.

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