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Iowa City School District Proposes Cuts

IOWA CITY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- The Iowa City Community School District administrators announced a $3.6 million series of district-wide budget cuts at a school board work session on Tuesday night that will take place next school year. 

Some of the most controversial programs to get slashed were foreign language and music education. 

Foreign language education for all seventh graders will be cut next year, as well as German language education throughout all grades. The cuts will not happen all at once, however. Students who are currently enrolled in German 1, 2, 4, or 4 will be allowed to continue through the German track until they graduate, but German 1 will not be offered as a class next year, said Superintendent Steve Murley.

The cuts to the German program left some instructors wondering how ICCSD students will compete in a global economy during the public comment section of the general board meeting. One German instructor said it was disappointing for students to miss out on a language that is such an integral part of Iowa culture. 

The orchestra program will be cut for all fourth grade students, and the performance music program will be restructured to begin small group instruction in fifth grade. 

General music education classes will no longer be offered at the junior high level, although students will still be allowed to participate in both band and orchestra. 

The cuts to the music program also drew ire from parents and teachers, who said it was easier to get students involved and interested in orchestra at earlier ages, and who pointed to the benefits of music education across disciplines. 

Those complaints and concerns, while valid, will not be taken into account for this round of budget cuts, Murley said. The district needed to make room for $3.6 million in the budget, and administrators attempted to do so with the "least negative impact on students and staff," Murley said. 

Other cuts include the scaling back of athletics at all grades, and the removal of the football program for all seventh grade students. 

The number of deans of students and at the high school level will be reduced and the high school guidance counselor position will be cut through attrition. Guidance duties will be filled by other staff members, according to the district budget adjustment summary. 

Students can also expect class sizes to increase, as the district's optimum thresholds for classes will increase. At the high school level, the "aspirational range" will move to 24-32 students per class. At the junior high level, it will move to 22-30 students per class. 

Third through sixth grade classes will also move up to that same level, with additional teachers being brought in to maintain that class level due to student growth. Additional teachers will be needed to maintain a 16-24 student per class level in the Kindergarten through second grade classes, as well. 

The district also plans to staff by cutting some staff positions, both teaching and support staff. The district plans to lose 60 staff members through attrition at the end of this current school year, and will rehire about 30 of those positions, Murley said. 

The cuts come after the loss of one-time federal recession-era funds that have run out, as well as a previous approval by the school board for the administration to cut into the district's unspent yearly balance in order to help keep class sizes low in previous years, Murley said. 

The district attempts to keep a 5 percent unspent balance of its yearly budget in order to maintain its AAA Moody's rating and to balance itself during a 90-day period over the summer when the state does not pay school districts any money. 

In recent years, however, that balance has dropped to its current 1.6 percent, which the school board has now charged administrators with bringing back up to that 5 percent. But, Murley said, that process will be incremental. If the district had moved back up to 5 percent unspent balance in one year, it would have meant $9 million in cuts rather than $3.6 million. 

The district plans to have the budget back on track by fiscal year 2019. 

At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the school board approved the amount of revenue coming into the school district, effectively setting the budget. 

The next step administrators will take is to reassign teachers who will be moved before the next school year. The state requires those teachers to be notified of their new assignments by April 30. 

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