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SIOUX CITY -- Eliminating $1.4 million in supplemental pay to nearly a third of Sioux City's teachers is a more preferable way to close a projected budget deficit than laying off teachers and staff, Superintendent Paul Gausman said Monday.

"It is a fiscally responsive way to balance the budget," Gausman said.

Last week, in the second of two public negotiating sessions with the local union representing the district's teachers, the administration proposed to reduce by $4,792 per year, the extra pay given to 296 middle school and high school teachers who perform additional classroom duties.

Gausman said district leaders were forced to make hard choices in the wake of Iowa lawmakers approving just a 1 percent increase in supplemental state aid for the state's public schools for the 2018-19 academic year. Gausman said the additional revenue, about $940,000, doesn't cover the district's increased costs, with many budget items increasing by around 3 percent.

Gausman and Patty Blankenship, the district's chief financial officer, shared budget details with a Journal reporter Monday afternoon prior to an evening meeting where the school board started work on the tax and spending plan.

Shedding the teacher supplemental pay would close all but around $200,000 of a projected $1.61 million shortfall, Blankenship said. District administrators also recommended two smaller proposed cuts -- $114,000 through eliminating a payment for computer leasing and $65,000 by cutting out two days of work per year for some support staff.

The proposed $200 million budget includes $169.6 million of general fund spending, which is financed by a mix of state aid and local taxes. If approved, the budget would lower the district's property tax rate from $15.39 per $1,000 of assessed valuation this year to $15.35 per $1,000 for 2018-19.

Gausman said while the property tax levy may go down by 4 cents per $1,000, the school district's share of property taxes paid by a typical property owner would still go up slightly, since property valuations as a whole have increased as a result of recent reassessments. The taxes paid to the school district by the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would rise by $69, from $876 to $945.

Of the projected $169.6 million in general fund spending, $135.3 million would go to employee salary and benefits. The district employs a combined 1,900 teachers and other staff.

The union, in its opening contract proposal, had proposed a 3.5 percent pay raise for all teachers for the 2018-19 academic year. The district countered with a $100 increase in the base pay scale, and the elimination of the supplemental pay.

Gausman sympathized with the teachers, saying it will be a "challenge" financially for them. But the superintendent pointed out the district is making a substantial concession to the unionized teachers by keeping them on the master salary schedule, where instructors get so-called lane and step additions to pay, depending upon years taught and advanced college degrees. With the changes to Iowa's collective bargaining law last year, many school districts no longer recognized the prior longstanding salary schedules, he noted.

The collective bargaining law now limits mandatory items of negotiation to base salaries for most public employees. An exception is made for unions for public safety workers, who are still allowed to negotiate for both wages and benefits.

Brenda Zahner, director of the Siouxland UniServ group of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents Sioux City teachers, said the extra duty pay comes for tasks covering one period in the eight-period schedule in the six middle and high schools.

"They are not extra courses, simply courses that already exist," Zahner said. "The extra pay comes about because the enrollment in the courses exceeds what there is room for in the schedule. A teacher who can teach the needed class gives up his or her planning period to teach that additional section. What they’re proposing is that all 296 of these teachers will still have to teach these classes, they’ll just have to do it without the additional pay."

Contract negotiations between the two sides are continuing in private sessions.

At Monday's school board meeting, several members of the public spoke out against the proposed cut in supplemental pay, and noted teachers were being unfairly singled out.

"I have not heard of any cuts at the administrative level," Julie Fischer of Sioux City said.

Gausman said he understands there are no good budget-cutting scenarios in a frustrating process.

"We are down to this bad, or this bad, or this bad decision to make," Gausman said, later adding, "It is bad for morale."

Iowa school districts must set their fiscal 2019 budgets by April 15. The Sioux City School Board is expected to discuss the budget again at its March 26 meeting and then formally adopt the plan at its April 9 meeting.

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