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Budget plan will lead to teacher layoffs, Democrats say
Most Iowa school districts will consider laying off teachers and staff if the legislature mandates zero percent allowable growth — the percentage a school district can allow its budget to grow annually — in the next two fiscal years, according to a survey released by Democrats Thursday.
Around 88 percent of superintendents who responded to a survey by Democratic staff said they would eliminate parainstructors — school employees who work in the classroom under a certified teacher — and other school staff to save money. Eighty-four percent would lay-off teachers.
If zero percent allowable growth in the next two fiscal years is approved, it will be the first time in state history, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) said Thursday.
“We cannot win this battle unless school districts, the parents, the teacher and administrators help us deliver the message to the Republicans that zero (percent allowable growth) for the first time in history is unacceptable at a time when the state has $900 million in the bank,” Gronstal said. Both he and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) said if universal preschool is eradicated, an additional 1,200 teachers statewide will be laid off as a result.
Of Iowa’s 358 district superintendents, 259 responded and returned the survey. The survey asked: “Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed zero percent allowable growth for the next two years. If the legislature were to agree with the Governor, which of the following actions would you school district consider?”
Though layoffs were the top two responses to saving money under such a measure, 81 percent of districts would consider raising property taxes, 66 percent would stop offering certain courses and 59 percent would eliminate some extracurricular activities. Just under half of the respondents would consider consolidating school districts.
Under Branstad’s allowable growth proposal, school districts are legally banned from expanding their budgets unless a surge in district enrollment occurs. The proposal has been met with heavy criticism from Democrats and state education advocates, who say no allowable growth long-term will lead to lay-offs across school districts.
The Republican-dominated Iowa House last week passed House File 185, which calls for zero percent allowable growth. Gronstal said the Senate will debate the bill next week, though Democrats will not negotiate the two percent they are fighting for.
Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said it’s still early to tell what the future of educational allowable growth will be.
“We are where we are,” Paulsen said Thursday. “You never know what will happen while a budget is being working on. But we are where we are.”
However, Paulsen added, the education department’s budget would still be allocated $216 million in the next academic year, which, along with districts’ existing funds, could assist in preventing lay-offs because school districts have flexibility in how funding is spent.
Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) said school districts can still operate under zero percent allowable growth because funding is not the problem districts face when they try to operate.
“The important thing people need to remember is that there is still a quarter of a billion dollars going into schools, (grades) K through 12, under zero percent,” he said. “The problems are archaic-minded personnel (in the school districts) and union practices. These tie the districts’ hands when it comes to living within their means.”
Furthermore, the Democrats’ proposal of two percent is not beneficial toward Iowa children, McKinley said.
“Sen. Gronstal, it would seem, cares more about adults than he does children,” he told the Iowa Independent. “You don’t hear him talk about kids, or student achievement, or how this money will go toward programs to enrich student achievement. You just hear how these dollars will apparently go toward employee IPERS.”