January 24, 2014

Due to declining enrollment and resulting decrease in state funding, a low allowable-growth rate and lack of an instructional support levy, the Carroll Community School District is facing potential staff cuts for the 2014-15 school year, confirmed school board president Kim Tiefenthaler.

At Thursday night's board meeting, superintendent Rob Cordes told the board that the district has been "able to survive" the last several years by levying cash reserves and volunteer retirements, the former of which is no longer a viable option.

This information was shared by the board during the same meeting in which the Carroll Education and Carroll Education Support Association presented their initial collective-bargaining proposals. The teachers requested an overall 9 percent salary increase. The package included their automatic raise, insurance and Iowa Public Employees Retirement System contributions.

According to Tiefenthaler, the district is facing a budget decrease of more than $500,000, leaving it without the funds to cover even the minimum automatic increase in wages.

"Just the basic raise with the steps and whatever percent they do get - those funds will be gobbled up pretty quick," he said.

Dale Schmidt, eighth-grade social studies teacher and one of the teachers' lead collective bargaining negotiators, said they had been unaware of any potential funding issue. He said the teachers are not currently considering a wage freeze.

Tiefenthaler said the Carroll district is one of fewer than 20 of Iowa's more than 300 districts that do not have an instructional support levy. The school board last asked the public to support such a levy in 2008 when declining enrollment left the district facing $500,000 in state funding cuts. The levy was defeated with two-thirds of voters against.

Tiefenthaler said the district might not be facing possible staff cuts if it had an instructional support levy in place. With continued declining enrollment and no levy, it was "inevitable" that the board would eventually reach the point when further line-item budget cuts would not solve the funding imbalance, he said.

The board also discussed the possibility of reducing or avoiding staff cuts by encouraging or raising incentive for early retirements. In most cases, the board would not fill the positions vacated. For the positions the district would have to fill, it would be able to hire someone "just starting out in the education world," Tiefenthaler said, explaining that salary packages for newer teachers would be less-expensive to the district than that for a teacher with decades of experience.

The board does not know how many positions could be affected, he said, adding that there are "no other avenues" through which to seek additional funding.

Board member LaVerne Dirkx left the meeting due to illness, so the board tabled the discussion until the February board meeting so all members could vote on any action, Tiefenthaler said.