#schoolsafety | Iowa City schools prioritize COVID-19 safety measures, learning loss in FY22 budget

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Community School District is continuing to prioritize coronavirus mitigation and students’ learning loss in its budget next year.

Although the district doesn’t have any “concrete plans” in place, Leslie Finger, Iowa City schools director of budget and finance, said the district is considering ramping up summer school programs, with a focus in reading and math, to help students make up learning lost during the pandemic.

The district still is identifying needs of the students, Finger said.

The district also will continue to prioritize safety measures as most students likely will return to school in the fall still unvaccinated against COVID-19.

More plexiglass barriers and air-quality initiatives are among items the district is considering, Finger said.

Funds also will go toward social-emotional supports to help students process a year of trauma stemming from the pandemic, Finger said.

“This is not a one-year fix,” he said.

At a glance, the overall budget for fiscal year 2022 — which starts July 1 this year and ends June 30, 2022 — is a decrease from this fiscal year’s budget because the district is “winding down the facility master plan,” Finger noted.

The budget is decreasing from more than $276 million to $270.5 million.

“We’ve been running between $50 (million) to $60 million a year in capital project expenditures for the last several years,” Finger said.

The district’s general fund increases almost 2 percent, from $180 million to $186 million.

The increase is due largely to the 1 percent increase in aid and from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Finger said.

Property owners in the district will pay a school tax rate of $14.85 per $1,000 of taxable property, an increase of 0.01 percent from last year.

The proposed budget levy is anticipated to increase taxes for the owner of a $250,000 home by $51.

The final taxable value of a home is affected by both the state rollback — which has ticked up to 56.04 percent — and homestead credit adjustments.

“A dollar (of the increase) is due to the increase in property tax rate, the other $50 is reflected in the rollback percentage,” Finger said.

A virtual public hearing on the budget will be held at 5 p.m. April 13.

The physical property and equipment levy for fiscal year 2022 is $12.5 million. The levy is used for capital improvements to school property and for the purchase of property.

The levy consists of a $1.34 voter-approved, 10-year PPEL levy and $0.33 board-approved levy OK’d annually. Voters reauthorized the PPEL Sept. 10, 2013, and it is scheduled to sunset June 30, 2025.

The district’s enrollment — more than 14,000 students — dropped by about 288 this year.

The question on the mind of almost every school district official in Iowa is how many students will return this fall, Finger said.

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“Across the state, enrollments are down 6,000 students,” he said. “Those students haven’t gone away. It’s just that parents and caretakers have made a choice to keep their children away from schools due to unsafe conditions.”

Finger said he hopes enrollment will return to 2019 numbers and perhaps even increase, which has been the trend in Iowa City the past 20 years.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com



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