Education spending: School districts adjust to Branstad's veto of state dollars

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

While local school districts didn't count on any extra state dollars for the 2015-16 school year, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's veto of nearly $56 million in funding still hurt.

Branstad used his line-item veto to deny the one-time dollars for education, along with several other measures, approved by the Iowa Legislature in June.

School districts will, however, receive a 1.25 percent increase in overall state aid for education for the 2015-16 school year.

Those dollars are distributed to school districts on a per student basis.

Le Mars Community Schools

LCS Superintendent Dr. Todd Wendt said the district's upcoming budget was built on the 1.25 percent increase.

School districts must certify budgets with the state by April 15.

"At that time, there was no discussion on the one-time funding," Wendt said. "That doesn't mean that the money wouldn't have been helpful."

He said, if passed, the district would have received $237,120.

The one-time money, Wendt said, would have helped the district maintain its reserves.

"I was disappointed he vetoed that because the Legislature stayed in session to come up with the compromise between the House and Senate," Wendt said. "I'm most disappointed because of the process they went through and then he just pulled the rug out from underneath the Legislature."

However, Wendt said he was not surprised by the veto, saying the 1.25 percent was all Branstad planned to give schools.

"When you look at Branstad's most recent term, he has underfunded us in the general fund every year," Wendt said.

Legislators also passed a small change in how Physical Plant and Equipment Levy, or PPEL, dollars are used by school district. Branstad also gave it his stamp of approval.

"Previously PPEL was something used for infrastructure and major pieces of equipment, over $500 in value," Wendt said.

In the past, it could not be used to repair the equipment. For example, the district could purchase a bus with PPEL dollars, but could not repair the bus using money from the PPEL fund.

"The minor change allows you do to do repairs that are over $2,500," Wendt said. "While we can't use it for computers, we can use it for some major things."

Wendt said it was a good change.

Hinton Community Schools

Hinton Superintendent Peter Stuerman said his district built the 2015-16 budget around a 1 percent or less increase in state funding.

"You want to be conservative when you build the budget. This way we don't have to amend it," he said.

Stuerman said if the additional one-time money had been passed, the district's $57,000 allotment would have been used for reading and language materials for upper elementary students.

"We will try to get that purchased in the next few years, it is materials we really need," Stuerman said. "It would have been idea for us to receive that money."

He said the change in how PPEL dollars may be used will help the district.

With eight busses on regular routes and three or four on activity routes, the dollars will help with bus repairs.

"When you spend $8,000 to $10,000 on a bus transmission, that would come out of the general fund for books and things," Stuerman said.

Remsen-Union Schools

For the R-U district, a one-time allotment of $45,000 would have been welcome.

"We had made significant cuts due to previous budget issues," said Superintendent Jan Brandhorst. "We didn't like it but were prepared. It's just $45,000 more to live without."

Brandhorst said the board had a target of cutting $400,000 from the general fund for next year.

The district's 2015-16 budget was based on a zero increase in regular state aid dollars.

"Unfortunately, I always take the worst case scenario. The rest is gravy," Brandhorst said.

Kingsley-Pierson Schools

At K-P, Superintendent Scott Bailey said his district planned for 2015-16 with a zero percent increase in state dollars.

"We looked at 1, 2 and 3 percent, to give us numbers," he said.

The 1.25 percent is nice, but it's not enough, Bailey added.

The one-time money vetoed by Branstad would have meant an additional $49,500 for the K-P district.

"We could have only used it for certain things as it was restricted money, but it's still money we could have used. I'm disappointed," Bailey said.

Bailey said the district will be fine budget-wise for the coming year.

"The Legislature has underfunded schools the last couple years tremendously for smaller schools," Bailey said. "It's a struggle for small schools to find new and innovative ways to keep programs going."

He said legislators need to understand that and adequately fund education.

Akron-Westfield Schools

At Akron-Westfield Community Schools, the board certified a budget with a zero percent increase in state dollars, according to board minutes on the school's website.

A-W Superintendent Randy Collins was unavailable at presstime.

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