April 8, 2014

Carroll Community school leaders hope to use 13 teacher early retirements to trim about $340,000 from their budget for next school year, Superintendent Rob Cordes said this morning.

That will account for the majority of the $500,000 in cuts that the school district's business manager, Gary Bengtson, has said is necessary to compensate for the second-straight year of declining student enrollment and for state lawmakers' reluctance to increase the amount of money that districts can spend per student.

School board members approved a $32.7 million budget on Monday that includes a 6-percent dip in the school property-tax rate for those who own property within the district boundary. The cut to $9.15 per $1,000 of valuation was a response to an increase in total property valuations, school leaders have said.

The general-fund cuts - through early retirements and other means - are necessary because Iowa school districts' so-called "allowable growth," which is controlled by state lawmakers, hasn't kept pace with rising costs, Bengtson said.

The state-mandated maximum amount per student that Carroll is allowed to spend next school year will be $6,366, a 4-percent increase.

District officials offered a one-time early-retirement deal this year to teachers and other staff who have worked at least 15 continuous years for the district. The payout is 60 percent of their annual salaries, with a $35,000 maximum per person.

Cordes said it is unclear how many of the 13 staff members will be replaced. He is considering other budget cuts but declined to reveal them "because I haven't talked to all those involved."

"We will do the least amount of damage that we can do to academic programming," Cordes said.

The district's certified school enrollment in October was about 1,675 students, a 15-student drop from the previous year, which equals a $95,000 decline in what the district can spend to pay its teachers and other related expenses from its general fund.

The budget approved Monday includes a general-fund budget of about $20.9 million for the next school year, an increase of about $470,000 from the current year. About 80 percent of that part of the overall budget pays employee salaries and benefits.

But the actual amount the district spends this year will likely be several hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what is budgeted because, Bengtson said, it is common practice for school officials to overestimate their needs to avoid the time-consuming budget-amendment process for an increase.