Marion School Board Approves 81-Cent Levy Rate Increase; Program Cuts

By Meryn Fluker, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa - A combination of budget reductions and increased revenue will help the Marion Independent School District make up a $900,000 budget shortfall in the 2015 fiscal year.

During a regular meeting Monday, board members voted 6-1 to increase the overall levy rate to $18.27 per $1,000 in taxable valuation. That's an increase of 81 cents over the 2014 rate of $17.46 per $1,000. Business Manager Brian Bartz said the rise will represent an almost $50 increase on that portion of the tax bill for the average Marion district homeowner and a $400,000 boost to the district's general fund.

Board Member Bill Huntoon cast the lone opposing vote.

The board also voted 5-2, with Huntoon and Board Member Dan Barkley opposing, to cut a projected $671,825 from the budget. Those reductions include taking Assistant Superintendent Greg Thomas from full time to half time, an estimated savings of $65,253, and cutting three full-time equivalent (FTE) core instructors at Vernon Middle School as well as .25 FTE English and .75 FTE foreign language teaching positions at Marion High School. The package of reductions, listed as Option C in one of three evaluated scenarios, also includes cutting district buildings' budgets by 10 percent and eliminating the middle school assistant principal.

During a March 10 board meeting, community members spoke in favor of shielding arts instruction, special education as well as reading and math strategists from the reductions. The slate the board approved Monday includes amending Option C to include $238,674 in estimated special education cuts through attrition. Superintendent Sarah Pinion said that some of those positions – 1.75 FTE instructors, 5 FTE associates at the Vernon Middle and 1 FTE associate at Francis Marion Intermediate schools – may have to be added back in fall depending on students' Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

"There should not be any impact (to special education students) because we always have to do what the IEP requires," Pinion said.

The combination of cuts and additional revenue will also cover the district's $617,000 special education deficit, Bartz said, but broader changes must come in order for the district to stop spending down its cash reserve levy.

"Every year that we give raises of about 4 percent, we're digging a hole...We have to find revenue or make cuts in that amount just to break even every year," Bartz said, estimating that if all things stay the same the district's cash reserve will run out in 10 years. "Eventually you're going to have to lower the cash reserve levy once we run out of spending authority. ... We'll have to cut not only what we have to cut for that year but what we've been getting from the cash reserve levy."
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