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Tax hikes, teacher reductions looming

Local school districts prepare for loss of allowable growth

March 30, 2011
By BILL SHEA Messenger staff writer

School districts in Webster County plan to raise taxes and dip into their savings accounts to deal with the possibility that they will get no new money from the state in 2011-2012.

And in the Prairie Valley Community School District, five retiring teachers will not be replaced. Superintendents in the Fort Dodge and Southeast Webster-Grand districts said their teaching staffs may be reduced also.

Fort Dodge Superintendent Doug Van Zyl said managing the district's budget without additional state money will be possible in 2011-2012.

''Right now we are doing well,'' he said.

But he warned that an even greater challenge awaits in 2012-2013 if there is no more money coming from the state.

The state government has annually boosted its basic aid to public schools by an amount called allowable growth.

When Gov. Terry Branstad introduced his proposed budget in January, he called for no allowable growth for the next two government spending years.

The state House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, passed a bill that sets the allowable growth rate at zero.

The state Senate, where Democrats are in the majority, has twice passed a bill setting the allowable growth rate at 2 percent.

On Monday, Branstad predicted that he will prevail and that there will be no allowable growth money.

As the debate continues in Des Moines, local school district leaders are preparing their budgets, which must be filed with the state government by April 15.

The superintendents of the Fort Dodge, Manson Northwest Webster, Prairie Valley, and Southeast Webster-Grand school districts said they did not include any new state money in their budget proposals.

In Fort Dodge, the proposed $62 million budget includes a property tax hike of 5 cents per $1,000 of taxable value, according to Jack Christensen, the district's director of financial services.

That increase will raise the tax rate from the current $17.45 per $1,000 of taxable value to $17.49 per $1,000 of taxable value.

Christensen said that increase could be reduced if the state eventually provides some allowable growth money. He said that normally school districts have their allowable growth figures earlier in the budget-writing process.

The Fort Dodge district has offered an early retirement incentive and eight to 10 employees have signed up for it, according to Van Zyl. He said about half of them are teachers. He added that some of them may not be replaced.

Any staff reductions, he said, will be achieved by not replacing employees who retire or resign.

Mark Egli, the Manson Northwest Webster superintendent, said his district may use money from its reserves to help offset the $127,000 loss it will sustain without any new state money.

''You don't like to get into reducing reserves,'' he said.

He said seven teachers will retire, but added that they will be replaced by younger teachers who will be paid less. He said the salary difference between a senior teacher and a new one can be as much as $20,000.

The proposed Manson Northwest Webster budget totals about $11 million and includes a property tax rate of $10.89 per $1,000 of taxable value.

Prairie Valley Superintendent Jim Dick said five retiring teachers will not be replaced. He added that the district has ''tried to build some things in the cash reserve'' to cope with the absence of allowable growth.

''I think it's been a pretty dismal legislative session for education,'' he said.

The proposed Prairie Valley budget is about $12 million and includes a property tax rate of $13,80 per $1,000 of taxable value.

The budget scenario in the Southeast Webster-Grand district is complicated by the fact that negotiations with the teachers union are ongoing. The current teachers contract expires at the end of this school year.

Superintendent Launi Dane said the district will ''ask for the highest taxes we can'' to deal with the allowable growth situation. She added that laying off teachers may be necessary.

The proposed $8.2 million school district budget includes a property tax rate of $14.54 per $1,000 of taxable value.

Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or



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