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Solon district waiting on state’s allowable growth decision

SOLON- School districts around the state receive a per-pupil amount that mostly comes from the state, about 88 percent, with local property taxes making up the remaining school revenues. That amount is set at about $6,000 per student this year.
Whether it grows or not– the allowable growth– is determined by the Iowa Legislature, and school districts are often left waiting on the state to agree on a number so local districts can set budgets.
Democratic state senators, with a narrow 26-24 voting edge, passed a four percent increase for the next two years.
If no bill is passed by April 15, schools will receive a zero percent increase. The flat-lined funding would be unprecedented had it not happened in 2011, when school budgets for fiscal year 2012 remained the same despite increased costs.
Because of the complex issue of education reform and school funding, State Representative Bobby Kaufman (R-Wilton) said he’s “in favor of the state moving those deadlines so we can do this right.”
But Kaufman called the senate’s allowable growth increase “a vote in a vacuum.”
Kaufman said he liked Governor Terry Branstad’s commitment to boost starting teacher salaries, but had serious concerns about the tiered career plan.
Governor Branstad originally proposed a 15 percent increase to teachers’ starting salaries, from $28,000 to $33,000. A house education committee reduced that amount to $32,000, a 12.5 percent increase.
Whatever state legislators decide, Kaufman predicted more money for education in the legislative session, but said bipartisanship bills would be needed for a governor’s signature.
Dan Smith, the executive director of the School Administrators of Iowa (SAI), a state-wide organization that represents more than 2,000 education administrators, said he believes four percent allowable growth is a reasonable number.
But Smith stressed the time factor of getting school funding decided when he said, “we don’t think allowable growth and education reform has to occur one before the other.”
His group, SAI, sent a resolution to 348 public school superintendents that requests the Iowa legislature pass a four percent allowable growth increase and to prioritize its passage to allow schools time to comply with state law mandating school budgets by April 15.
In Solon, Superintendent Sam Miller presented the resolution to the school board which quickly and unanimously passed it.
SAI is collecting the school funding resolutions to present to legislators around the state.
“Once allowable growth is set, schools can make necessary staffing decisions and prepare a budget that maximizes resources,” Miller said. He added that it was irresponsible of the governor and legislators not to set allowable growth rates within 30 days of the governor’s budget.
A recent survey showed that 87 percent of Iowa school superintendents said failing to determine aid to local schools before March 1 will result in teacher layoffs, crowded classes and harm to student achievement.
In Iowa City, K-12 school officials have prepared a zero-percent budget, preparing for a scenario like the one Iowa legislators dealt to schools for FY12 when schools got no state money to keep pace with inflation.
“(Allowable growth is a) cost-of-living adjustment for schools, the inflation adjustment,” according to Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of the Iowa State Education Association. Cobb said education funding was being held hostage to get the governor’s reform plan passed.
In December, Branstad announced he wanted to get rid of current system of setting allowable growth. In 1995, he signed “forward-funding” for allowable growth into Iowa law.
The school funding growth rate was previously determined by a formula that factored enrollment, state revenues, and economic and inflation indicators.