J. B. Young Opportunity Center main entrance is shown Jan. 15, at 1702 N. Main Street in Davenport.

State officials lauded Davenport Schools on Tuesday for its progress since the district came under special state oversight. But state officials will continue to monitor the district for months as it works to correct its problems and get back into compliance with a state law that limits how much Iowa districts can spend each year. 

The Davenport school board overspent its budget authority the past three years.

The district provided the state's School Budget Review Committee with necessary updates at a meeting in Des Moines, that, given the circumstances, school board President Ralph Johanson said "went about as well as it could have."

Since December, the last time the district updated the state on its progress, Davenport has:

  • Hired a new superintendent, Robert Kobylski, and conducted its state-required Phase II audit after a number of delays due to weather.
  • Rejoined the Iowa Association of School Boards and, at Monday’s school board meeting, established a finance committee, headed by Director Julie De Salvo.
  • Pink-slipped 75 teachers in a cost-cutting move. Further, the district said it is going to save $1.2 million starting July 1 from layoffs of employees in administrative roles and the central office.

SBRC member Dave Roederer had one major question for the district Tuesday: “How’s it going?”

Given the number of layoffs, interim Superintendent TJ Schneckloth said it felt like the district was “closing a school.”

“Right now, it’s very difficult,” Schneckloth said. “We are trying to figure out a way to move on and be strong moving out of it.”

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Johanson, the school board president, said there was a challenge in addressing so many issues at once. In addition to the Phase II audit and the district’s drastic budgeting, state-ordered corrective actions from the district’s special education audit are due April 23.

“There are so many big challenges right now,” he said. “The special education audit that we had a little over a year ago is coming up, and we received citations. … We’re having to attend to those. That’s a big, big deal. There are a lot of resources being dedicated to that.

“Beyond that, some of the challenges with addressing our budget to comply with our agreement, the plan we made for the SBRC. Those are all big issues. The pink-slipping affects everybody: the board, the community, of course, our employees.”

As in past hearings, the SBRC members noted the required budgeting measures aren’t easy.

“I want to recognize how hard this has been and how much credit you and your colleagues deserve for pushing it through,” SBRC member Martha Bruckner said. “It can’t be pleasant.”

The SBRC unanimously approved the recommendation from the state department, which was “to accept the progress report based on the district’s corrective action plan and table the request for modified supplemental amount.”

The district will reappear at the SBRC’s October hearing; at that point, the SBRC will have Davenport’s full financial report, including data on how the fiscal year for 2019 went.

“We kind of expected it to go that way. We wanted to make sure that we’re doing what our board voted to do,” Schneckloth said. “… What we said we were going to do, we are doing, even though it’s very painful and hard to do.”