Funding takes center stage as educators meet elected officials

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – Extending a local sales tax option, state supplemental aid, and other issues were on the agenda as area superintendents met with area legislators on Wednesday in Des Moines.

Fort Madison Superintendent Erin Slater said her discussions focused on extending the sunset on the sales tax infrastructure and the importance of supplemental aid.

She said local legislators, including State Sen. Rich Taylor, State Rep. Jerry Kearns, and State Rep. Dave Heaton, have been supportive in conversations about the district’s needs and finances.

One of the key discussions Wednesday focused on extending S.A.V.E. which is Secure an Advanced Vision for Education. The SAVE is a penny sales tax that school districts can use for infrastructure improvements. The Fort Madison school district used those funds, which are gleaned from a one-cent tax on sales throughout the state, to build the Fort Madison Middle School on Bluff Road. However, the funding source in its current form will expire in 2029.

“There is a bill being discussed to eliminate the sunset on that funding, which would allow additional funding to come in for infrastructure improvements and that would have an impact in Fort Madison,” Slater said Thursday.

“Across the board there is a need for that S.A.V.E. to be extended for school districts. There are infrastructure needs if you’re urban or rural and there is only so much districts can do. So it would be good to be able to take advantage of that money that is already being spent around the state.”

She said extending the funding wouldn’t allow the district to access that money to build a new elementary school because they are currently using those funds to pay off the middle school. However the district would be able to access some of the funds for other projects.

“It doesn’t help us with building an elementary but where it could help is improvements at the high school. It could help there immediately,” Slater said.

Slater said there’s been some negative press on the S.A.V.E. where districts used the money for athletic facilities, turf, football fields, and such and she said new language in an extension could address those issues.

She said a 1.5% supplement aid number has been heard coming from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office. But a state house bill is recommending a 1% increase, which would push the current $6,664 per pupil funding by $67 to $6,731.

“It’s still low historically but it’s better than 0 and it’s better than 1,” she said of Reynolds’ number. “It’s difficult when you take a look at budgets and try to support all the needs we have, especially when you look at special needs. We need to be providing the best services we can to each individual child. That can be costly but that’s our responsibility and vouchers would be something that would hurt that.”

House File 9, currently being debated, would provide for much of the $6,660 toward a private school and Senate File 2089 would allow education grants for students that would be partially funded by monies allocated to public schools.

Slater said those bills would do harm to the district.

“It would hurt public schools’ resources and would have a huge negative impact financially,” Slater said. “Part of the frustration from public educators is not only are your resources leaving – money, students, but they’re going into an environment where transparency and regulations for assessment are not there. We have all this transparency, and which we should, the public should know what we’re doing absolutely, but when you go to an environment where we have these regulations and there’s no accountability on the other side to be competitive – that’s very frustrating.”

She said area elected officials have been supportive of her concerns.

“I’ve gone up the last two years,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to meet and at the same time explain to them what the need is as far as southeast Iowa and rural districts and how those needs contrast to urban areas who typically get more attention.”

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