SIOUX CITY -- After hearing more teachers complain about a controversial plan that would cut their annual pay by about $4,800, the Sioux City School Board on Monday finalized the district’s 2018-19 budget that includes that pay cut and lowers the local property tax rate.
After discussing options for three months, the board members approved the $204 million financial plan with revenues and expenses for the year through June 30, 2019. Of that total amount, $169.6 million will come in general fund spending, up by $3.3 million from the current year amount of $166.3 million.
The budget approval came after a hearing in which six people spoke. A big topic was the elimination of supplemental pay for middle school and high school teachers who perform extra duties.
Teacher Julie Fischer slammed the district for using "voodoo economics."
"We have administrators trying to steal $4,800 from teachers and take no pay cuts for themselves...The cuts in our schools seem to be just leveled at the teachers," Fischer said.
Sioux City School District Superintendent Paul Gausman and school board members said they didn't like making the cuts, but were forced to make hard choices after basic state aid to public schools only increased by 1 percent.
Gausman said his rationale was not to cut entire teaching positions or programs, so cutting the extra-duty pay was a grudgingly best option.
"I certainly know it is unfavorable. I don't like it either," Gausman said.
In the approved budget, the district's property tax rate drops 4 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, from $15.39 this year to $15.35 per $1,000.
The district's share of property taxes paid by a typical property owner will still go up slightly, since property valuations as a whole have increased as a result of recent reassessments. The school district’s share of taxes paid to the school district by the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would rise by $69, from $876 to $945.
Ultimately, in approving the budget on a 6-1 vote, the school board followed through with the administration proposal to eliminate the extra pay, of $4,792, given to 296 middle school and high school teachers, or about 30 percent of the total district instructors. Those teachers perform additional classroom duties during sixth period, in the eight-period schedule in the six middle and high schools.
Gausman previously said Sioux City is a rare Iowa school that has given such extra-duty pay, and it is no longer affordable. Eliminating the extra-duty pay saved $1.44 million, or nearly all of the $1.6 million school officials sought to cut in recent weeks for FY 2019.
The school board can make the cuts to extra-duty pay without bargaining that reduction through the Sioux City Education Association, which represents roughly 900 teachers. Republican lawmakers in 2017 approved a major overhaul of the state's collective bargaining law, which now limits mandatory items of negotiation to base salaries for most public employees, including teachers.
By comparison, one year ago board members went with an expansion of the district's early retirement program to make the majority of cuts for the 2017-18 budget. Gausman said another tough budget process could come in spring 2019, when the possibility of more early retirements might be pitched.
The district has more than 1,900 employees. For the 2018-19 year, the district expects to spend $135.3 million on salaries and benefits, an increase of about $2.4 million from the current year.
The budget includes local property taxes and state aid. The Iowa Legislature this year approved a 1 percent increase in supplemental state funding for K-12 districts for the budget year that begins July 1.
Sioux City School Board members lamented a new normal in which larger increases aren't coming from the Legislature to school districts, making it difficult to pay for personnel and program costs.
"There is just not the money," board member Jackie Warnstadt said.
Also during the discussions, the board members declined to spend $211,170 to hire three new talented and gifted program teachers. The board did add a new program called International Baccalaureate, at an estimated first-year cost of $67,500.
Over the past year, some district constituents have said they wanted an expansion of TAG teaching personnel. Gausman said he recommended launching an International Baccalaureate program, with challenging curriculum pieces across all subject areas, such as English, foreign language, math, science, social studies, the arts and physical education.
It will take five years to fully implement IB in five schools, ideally at one elementary school, one high school and three middle schools.
The $67,500 cost will be for an application fee to get underway with IB, and in May district officials will learn more with some research.
"You might choose later to do one building, or two, or none," Gausman said.
Board member David Gleiser, the sole no vote on the budget, spoke against moving ahead with IB, since he said the district "can't afford" to add programs in the current financial climate. Gleiser said community members would rather see more spent to prop up talented and gifted programming.
Community members Jeana Guy and Kristi Rice spoke against International Baccalaureate. Rice said it will cost millions to fully implement, and IB proceeding would mean TAG students would be "robbed of" opportunities.
Board president Mike Krysl said the Sioux City budget was set in an "awkward" timeline, as negotiations with the SCEA and other union groups are not finished, and Iowa school districts' budgets must be set by April 16.
"There is still a lot at play," Krysl said.
District Spokeswoman Mandie Mayo in a statement to the Journal said the budget "has estimated salaries and benefits using reasonable assumptions based on what we know and/or anticipate. When negotiations for all groups are complete, the district will reevaluate the assumptions used and proceed accordingly. If an amendment is needed later, such action can be taken."