They’re called Title I schools, and thousands of Quad-City children — many from poor families — go to them. They, too, are facing the fiscal cliff.
State officials in Iowa say, as written, school districts are looking at 7.8 percent cuts to their Title I funding.
In Davenport alone, that would mean a cut of about $400,000 based on the
$5.2 million the district got this year. Of course, nobody knows yet whether that would be the final figure. But whatever it is, it would come as the district already faces fiscal challenges. It’s in the midst of trying to find $3 million in savings.
Congress did draft the law so any cuts won’t take effect until July. That will save schools from having to deal with cuts in the middle of a school year.
Marsha Tangen, chief financial officer for the Davenport district, says when they do get the word on the magnitude of cuts, they’ll begin a process that puts as its top priority holding classrooms harmless.
That’s not easy to do. Sixty-seven cents out of every Title I dollar goes to salaries and benefits, much of it for classroom teachers.
The district did have a $550,000 balance at the start of the year. Some of that may be available to cushion the blow. Still, the balance is likely to shrink by the end of the year, and the district likes to keep 5 percent in the bank.
Bettendorf school officials say they, too, have some carryover. The district got $381,000 in Title I money this year, and Maxine McEnany, the district’s finance director, says that would be used to create a “softer landing.”
But for districts that don’t have enough money in the bank, or can’t a way to stop service cuts, the impact might mean fewer reading or math interventions for students.
In Iowa, the bulk of education cuts would be from Title I and special education funding, said Jeff Berger, the deputy director of the state department of education.
Some districts have cash balances in their special education accounts. But unlike Title I, a state law prevents local districts from cutting services when costs exceed revenues, officials say.
If that happens, the burden falls onto local property taxpayers. Officials in Bettendorf and Davenport say they have balances in their accounts, but with the exact amount of cuts unknown it’s not clear yet whether there will be enough to cover any shortfall.
Area education agencies, which get the bulk of special education funding in Iowa, have less flexibility because they can keep smaller balances and more of their money is tied up in staff. AEA funding also hasn’t kept up with costs over the past 10 years.
Mississippi Bend AEA, which covers six counties including the Iowa Quad-Cities, has a $25 million special ed budget.
Last year, AEA employees took furloughs to help deal with reductions, and sequestration could mean another $400,000 to $500,000 next year, although that’s a rough estimate. The state hasn’t told the AEAs what might happen. “We’re at a minimum right now,” Glenn Pelecky, Mississippi Bend AEA’s chief administrator, said.