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Rural school districts could face possible cuts in near future

The I-35 Community School District is located in rural Truro. (Photo: Steffi Lee)
The I-35 Community School District is located in rural Truro. (Photo: Steffi Lee)
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The I-35 Community School District sits in Truro, Iowa. In 2010, census data shows there were less than 500 residents in the entire town.

Its story echoes many other rural school districts in similar size towns. Declining enrollment, tight budgets and tough decisions. Even with a 2.25 percent increase in school aid for the state's school district, administrators say it's not enough. I-35 dropped in enrollment by more than a dozen students last school year. The budget the district will work with next year is around $58,000 of new money.

But continue their caring for students is what matters, teachers say.

"We may be a rural school, but we are not isolated," 7th and 8th grade science teacher Sue Meggers said.

Meggers cites internet accessibility and technology use within the district as ways to keep students well connected.

School administrators say they are doing all they can to avoid making drastic cuts that would affect the quality of the students' education, such as not cutting staff.

Secondary principal Steven Kaster said one large portion of their budget has to go to transportation costs. The district operates 11 bus routes and some travel times could take up to an hour. Other areas the I-35 district covers includes New Virginia, St. Charles and outer parts of Winterset.

"The money that's allocated for those buses and transportation does not change school to school based on the amount of travel," Kaster said.

But when funds get tight, he says there's only one way of handling the issue.

"Squeezing everywhere we can squeeze, whether if its staff, it could be resources," he said. "We don't have anything specific that we're going to cut, but you have to consider those every year when you start talking budgets. Especially tight budgets."

Bob Olson, superintendent of Clarion-Goldfield Dows Community School District and chair of the Rural School Advocates of Iowa says that's a problem many other rural towns face as well.

Even the smallest details factor into cost, he said.

"It might be that it's hillier," Olson said. "So it takes more fuel and more time to actually transport students. It might be that they have to cross the interstate and there's limited places you can do that."

I-35 Superintendent Kevin Fiene says certain adjustments that the district's made involve early retirement packages, LED lighting installations and operational sharing opportunities for transportation and curriculum with Southeast Warren Community School District.

Meggers said Fiene and the rest of the administration have been helpful in budgeting appropriately so resources aren't slashed. In order to best serve her students, she also personally buys materials to use inside her classroom.

"I choose to do that," she said. "So I can make sure I get the kids what they need."

As a science teacher, she focuses on hands-on activities and says there's no other way the lessons will stick.

"You don't need fancy tools to do good teaching," she said.

Meggers said she hopes lawmakers who help identify school aid numbers and community members realize one thing.

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"Our future is our education and making sure our teachers are well prepared, and that they understand teaching our children about the real world scenarios is key," she said,.

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