Cost Cuts: District takes steps to reign in extra 2005-06 budget expenses

By Briana McGeough 2008

Cold season is officially here, complete with a runny nose, watery eyes and the whole bit, yet it’s hard not to notice the grim look on teachers’ faces whenever anyone takes a tissue. At first it was commonly thought that teachers had gotten particularly sensitive to students standing up in class, but it was soon learned that due to budget constraints, each teacher is limited to two boxes of tissues for each classroom for an entire year. This means that students must either bring their own tissues or refrain from blowing their noses. The tissue issue is just one small part of the budget concerns that the Cedar Falls Community School district is facing.

The district has a budget of roughly $34 million. Most of the funds come from the state government and property taxes, with less than three percent coming from the federal government.

Most of the district’s money goes toward paying the salaries of teachers, administrators and support staff, with the remainder going toward technology and other supplies.
Although the budget has increased within the last year, it has not increased as rapidly as costs have.

“We realized in June that we had real budget concerns,” Dan Conrad, Director of Secondary Education, said, “but we had already done our hiring for the year, so the best thing we could do was hold off purchasing some things for a year or two.”

The Cedar Falls School District has gone $700,000 over budget. Of this money, $144,714 of it went to funding energy and $329,442 went to special education.

“We went over budget partially because of unforeseen increases in energy costs which weren’t budgeted for, such as gas and heating. Also, this year we had a high number of students who, to meet their needs, we were obligated to provide them with one-on-one attention,” Conrad said.

Because of all of the strains on finances, the superintendent, business manager and the directors of elementary education, secondary education and personnel had to make some quick budget decisions to keep finances in order and make sure the quality of a Cedar Falls education was not compromised.

“We tried to make reductions that had the least impact on students. We tried to not make reductions in staff and instead made reductions to equipment and supplies that don’t have a huge impact,” Conrad said.

Even though an effort was made to not let budget concerns affect students, certain reductions have required some sacrifice.

“The principals, secretaries and department chairs deserve a lot of credit. They’ve had to live without some things,” Conrad said.

There are several factors that affect how much money is in the education budget. Cedar Falls has seen a decline in enrollment, which greatly affects the amount of funding it receives, since each student that the Cedar Falls school district educates, brings in about $5,000. Additionally, the state legislature determines the amount of funding that will go to education each year.

“We don’t have control over the legislature or our enrollment, so we just have to sit back, wait and see,” Conrad said.
Even with the budget struggles, there is some good news.

“We don’t have any debt, something that makes us very fortunate as a school district. We didn’t have to ask the taxpayers for more money,” Conrad said.

Cedar Falls has several separate dedicated funds for education. It cannot legally use money from the building fund to pay for salaries or equipment.

“Sometimes people look at all of the construction we are doing and ask how we can afford it. It’s a common misconception, but if we need an equipment upgrade, our building fund doesn’t help,” Conrad said.

There is a possibility that a sufficient budget increase is just over the horizon. Cedar Falls is expecting to get 50 new students next year. This would increase the overall budget by $250,000.

“The first thing we will do is look at areas that we’ve reduced and put purchasing back on track. Then if we have a surplus, we will reduce class sizes to benefit students,” Conrad said.
There have also been some valuable lessons learned from the creative budgeting of this year.

“We know energy costs will be just as high or higher next year, so we can budget for that. We are continuing to look for areas to be efficient in,” Conrad said.

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