Local schools spend $6,600 per student, but are dollars the best of measures?
As Iowa's per pupil spending on elementary and secondary education lies below national average, area school districts remain financially stable, but also continue to cut corners of their own to accommodate the state's budget crunch.
According to the latest data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau, Iowa spends an average of $6,547 annually for each student in elementary and secondary schools in the state's 371 school districts, a figure below the national average of $6,835. Figures show that Iowa is behind 23 states who spend more on education per student. Numbers represent the 1999-2000 fiscal year, the latest census data available.
Because of the current budget crisis suffered by Iowa and 44 other states resulting from national economic recession that left the country currently with budget shortfalls totaling $40 billion, Iowa alone is approximately $280 million short for the 2001-2002 fiscal year. With 4.6 percent across-the-board budget cuts, Iowa schools must cope with limited resources.
Locally, The Storm Lake Community School District is slightly above the Iowa average in per-pupil spending. During the 1999-2000 school year, the district utilized a total operating fund of approximately $12.5 million for a district with a population totaling 1,873 enrolled students, bringing a per-pupil average of $6,685.
Superintendent Bill Kruse said the school district generally stays above average financially thanks to steady increases in enrollment that have allowed for extra growth funds.The district annually receives approximately $250,000 due to the steady increase of enrolled students, but the funds are not necessarily guaranteed.
"I think all schools in Iowa have budget restraints, but Storm Lake is growing in population while other districts are shrinking," Kruse said. "With a changing population, it all depends on enrollment."
Kruse said that despite extra quarter million, the district will feel the impact of state budget cuts by making reductions to accommodate for other increased costs. For the 2002-2003 school year, the district has made the reduction of two staff members, eliminated one bus route, and reduced textbook spending and supplies. Kruse said that with the cuts and the continuing budget crisis, few expansions are likely to be made in the district.
"Right now, to be able to maintain programs would be our best hope." Kruse said.
The Storm Lake Community School District is not alone in feeling the effects of the budget crunch. Other school districts throughout the area, including the Newell-Fonda School District, are also forced to cut corners while both enrollment and state funds continue to drop.
Newell-Fonda Superintendent Merle Boerner said that the district suffered the financial loss of $61,979 due to the across-the-board cuts. Nevertheless, per-pupil spending remained above average at $7,913 per student in a district of 464 students. Boerner said the district will continue to make budget cuts of their own to accommodate decreased funds.
"We've been fortunate enough to have a few teachers resign this year, so through attrition, we've been able to cut some teaching, and also shorten our elementary classes to one section," he said. "We're also being much more frugal. We don't want our technology to slide and we don't want our textbooks to be outdated, but we've encouraged our teachers not to request anything unless there's a real need."
Boerner said the Newell-Fonda school district is, at the present, in no real trouble, but, as enrollment continues to drop, the financial forecast for Newell-Fonda, along with other schools, may grow cloudier.
"Currently, we are graduating students in classes of 40, but only bringing in kindergarten classes of 20 students." Boerner said. "The school budget is based on enrollment, so if that drops, our finances will too. Are we in immediate or near-future trouble? No. But far down the road, we may see some problems."