In order to comply with Iowa law that its budget be certified “no later than April 15, 2014, the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) board certified what Superintendent Murley called the “revenue budget and tax rate” at its April 8th meeting. The superintendent said there would be a $3.6 million dollar “budget adjustment” (really budget cuts), and he had specific listed expenditures to cut, including music and foreign languages. Without prior public involvement, the superintendent announced that budget cuts were final. The board initially accepted this, and at least two board members communicated that the decision was the superintendent’s and that the board would not vote on cuts. Following significant public outcry, the board agreed at its April 22nd meeting to put the budget cuts on its next meeting agenda. So the big question is—are the budget cuts a done deal or not? They are NOT, and below is a Q&A to further explain why the budget cuts are not final.
The italicized information below has been provided to me by a staff member at the Iowa Department of Education.
Now that the budget is certified, is the school property tax now set?
Yes. “The certified budget cannot be changed upward for property taxes after it is published and certified.”
After the budget is certified, what happens if more revenues ($$$) come into the school district?
“If more revenue comes in than what was budgeted, the certified budget can be amended after July 1, 2014, and before May 31, 2015.”
I understand that the district may need to cut expenses; however, I’m assuming that what is being cut can be revisited and amended if the board agrees to. Is my understanding correct?
“Budget decisions are always board decisions as the superintendent does not have the authority to certify any budget. RIF [reduction in force] is also a board decision. ****
The certified budget is by fairly aggregated categories and would not have the detail as to what positions were included in any budgetary reductions. It would be unusual for a district to have its line item budget done before summer and that is where one would see the detail of how much money is planned in which functions and objects.”
Can the district change what is in the categories for expenses so long as the total is the same?
“Yes, expenditures can change within a category (control line) on the certified budget without needing any amendment. If expenditures move across control lines and that movement causes either control line to exceed what was on the certified budget, then the certified budget must be amended within the budget year to which it applies (that’s why it must be after July 1).”
How can the school board amend the budget if the category (control line) goes above what was budgeted for?
“The board has to follow the same process to amend that it followed to certify in the first place. **** The board has to publish, hold public hearing, certify, and submit to the county or DOM [Department of Management] (I am not sure which).”
What are the main takeaways here?
1. District leadership did not need to announce specific cuts at the time the budget was certified, and expense cuts can now and later be changed.
2. Keep the public involved in the process.
3. Surprises of this magnitude could and should be avoided by a proactive budgeting process rather than a reactive one so the district does not lurch from one budget crisis to the next.
4. Perhaps above all, the board needs to realize that it, and not the superintendent, is in charge of the school district.
Update: At its June 10, 2014 meeting, Lynch moved and Swesey seconded to “approve the budget adjustments [cuts] presented by administration” [meaning the board would not revisit the superintendent’s budget cuts and there would be no meaningful opportunity for the front line staff or public to have input prior to the decision].
This was despite numerous community members opposition to the cuts and board member Fields commenting “that other districts applied for the teacher leadership program which brings in funding and ICCSD did not even apply.”
McGinness made a motion to call the question.
Swesey, Hoelscher, Lynch, and McGinness voted in favor of upholding the superintendent’s budget cuts.
Dorau, Fields and Kirschling voted against upholding the superintendent’s budget cuts.