A little more than two months before the 2018 Iowa Legislative session gets underway, two state legislators brought some tough news about funding to Monday's Pleasant Valley School Board meeting.
Sen. Rita Hart, a Democrat from Wheatland, and Rep. Gary Mohr, a Republican from Bettendorf, told board members they face a challenging budget year, with little or no growth anticipated for K-12 public schools.
The lawmakers predicted tight funding in several aspects of the state budget, including in mental health care for students. Brian Strusz, assistant superintendent, said 20 percent of the district's students are impacted by mental health issues, and it needs to be "funded at the highest level possible."
Strusz said while Vera French now supplies therapists to schools in Scott County, there are some days it is hard to find a therapist. In addition, appropriate in-hospital treatment is a continuing concern.
Mohr asked if the situation would be helped if Genesis Health System added beds, and when Strategic Behavioral Health is built. In July, the state approved construction of a 72-bed psychiatric hospital in Bettendorf.
The continuum of care is an emerging issue, Superintendent Jim Spelhaug said, and how that impacts a student's ability to succeed in school.
Hart suggested a new program to keep in mind. The peer program, where people who have mental health issues but "are in a good place," could help others who suffer. That might be useful on the school level, she said.
When PV officials asked about school funding, Hart said the legislature is facing "a terrible budget situation."
Mohr said the state reappropriated dollars as one of the first actions taken in January. "We might have to shave off $35 million this year," he said, "again, we might save K-12 funding."
Hart said one solution would be to fund schools at a higher level because "when you scrabble over every penny it's an issue. But this year is no time to do that."
On the topic of TIF, or tax-increment funding districts, Spelhaug said Pleasant Valley supports increased transparency in the program. He said that TIF funding programs could be improved if counties were given the vote on TIFs.
"I don't like to see cities and school districts to be in adversarial positions on TIFs," he said, suggesting that Scott County would have a larger vantage point to make the decisions.
Mohr said he is personally involved in revising TIF in Iowa, and suggesting changes.
"We don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water," Spelhaug said.
Mohr told the PV board members that he is in constant communication with Spelhaug during the legislative session. "We don't advertise this, but I think it's critical," he said.
Hart and Mohr pointed out that Pleasant Valley is in the position of growth, with enrollment increases every year. "Most areas of the state are in declining enrollment, and the whole state is not growing in population," Hart said.