The parking lot at the Anamosa Community School District’s district office was packed with vehicles, with overflow parking spilling out onto the street.
Inside the board room was the same story. People filled the room, not only taking up all the available chairs, but taking up floor space a few rows deep and standing in the back of the room flowing out the door.
The crowd was there for proposed budget cuts on the agenda for the March 25 meeting, delayed a week due to the district’s spring break. Superintendent Larry Hunt took the board and the public through the proposed list.
In the library, a paraeducator would be shared between the middle school and high school, with a current paraeducator being reassigned. Also on the table was reducing extended days for the elementary library. The potential cutting of the position and hours saw multiple members of the public speak out against the move. Hunt said that the hours could remain a conversation.
Hunt also said the district could save just over $71,000 through attrition in the REVIVE position. Numbers also dictated a reduction in a second grade teaching position and a middle school special education instructor.
A pair of teachers and Strawberry Hill Principal Val Daily accepted the offer of early retirement, which would switch funds from general fund to the management fund.
Hunt said the district also needed to deal with the nearly $26,000 which was estimated to be set to overspend in their talented and gifted program, suggesting a reduction from a two full time positions to a position and a half.
However, what got the most public push back was moving to Information Technology Services for the district’s technological needs and cutting the position of Roy Carter, technology director in the district. The move, Hunt estimated, would save the district between $55,000 and $60,000. Multiple people, including Carter’s wife Susan and Roy himself got up to speak on the matter.
“I am not as much concerned about preserving my job as I am concerned with the effects this will have on the students and the district,” Carter said.
He said he had concerns about the district receiving the necessary level of support from the district. Hunt said he talked to multiple districts around Iowa that were pleased with the amount of support, which would be available 24/7. When a member of the public questioned the research done, Board President Carl Chalstrom responded.
“This is his job to do this,” he said of Hunt. “He has gotten the information. That’s why we pay him a salary.”
In a tense atmosphere, district officials and board members stressed how difficult the decisions in front of them were.
Board Member Anna Mary Riniker said the only thing worse was going to a funeral for a close family member or child, and last time a decision like this was made she stayed awake until 3 a.m.
“There were some comments made that perhaps we don’t care. We certainly do care,” Board Member Matt McQuillen said. “We have to do something.”
“Anybody who thinks these decisions are made lightly is wrong,” Hunt said. “To make these types of decisions does not weigh easy on anybody.”
Responding to a critique during public comment time about the lowest man on the totem pole always being on the chopping block at the expense of those higher up, Hunt said he’d already instructed the board to forgo any salary increase for himself.
Still up in the air were the savings that would be seen from ending the mentoring program through the Grant Wood Area Education Association and doing that in house. The district was waiting to see if a staff member currently on the books at the association would be retained. The possible retirement of a mechanic in the transportation department was also up in the air.
All told, the district would likely save approximately $400,000. While the district is not in a financial crisis, the point of the cuts is to attempt to begin to level off spending. The district overspent their budget by about $600,000 last year and are going to overspend by approximately $450,000 this year.
While the decision was made to spend down the district’s general fund balance, a correct decision Hunt said, a mixture of state funding not matching the rate expenses were increasing and the fact that the district took on ongoing expenses, not one-time costs, but the district in its current situation.
“We are not in a financial crisis right now by any means, but if we don’t do something now, in two years, three years tops, this district will be broke, and we’ll all be looking for new jobs,” Hunt said.
The board approved giving Hunt the authority to make the changes listed as necessary, with the exception of the extended learning program, until they got more information. The vote passed 5-2 with Riniker and Brian Hurt voting against it.
Just because the vote was approved, doesn’t mean all the proposed cuts would be acted upon.
“We need to hear from you, and we appreciate you coming,” Chalstrom told the crowd before moving on.
After the vote, the overwhelming majority of those in attendance made their way out of the building.