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Fort Madison School Board Halts Several Lay-Offs

The Fort Madison School Board went against the recommendation of district administrators by choosing not to eliminate several teaching positions. Superintendent Ken Marang said no one ever wants to eliminate jobs, but sometimes it has to be done.

“You hate to make cuts, but somebody had to make the recommendations,” said Marang. “So the administrators and I worked for many, many days to come up with a good plan and we thought we had a good one.”

That plan was to eliminate five full-time teachers along with some other part-time employees. But only the elimination of the full-time posts required a vote of the school board.

Marang said the district is facing a significant shortfall in next year’s budget thanks to state aid coming in much lower than anticipated and the district’s enrollment declining by more than 40 students. He said that meant the district would only receive about $85,000 in new money when contract negotiations require much, much more.

“Typically [the district needs] about $500,000 for [contract] negotiations each year, and I only had about $85,000 in new money so do the math on that, you see what you get.

Marang said when other accounts were factored in, the deficit was about $365,000, thus the need to lay off teachers. But the board did not agree.

In the end, just one of the five teachers will be out of a job. Marang said that’s a special education teacher who was only going to be working with two students next year, so her duties will be absorbed by other employees.

Marang said instead of trying again, the district will simply use its reserve funds to cover the shortfall. He said doing that is troublesome, though, especially if enrollment continues trending down.

“We have an unspent balance of a few million dollars,” said Marang. “However, we still don’t have the unspent balance the state recommends we carry as a district of our size. So you start spending down unspent balance, it’s like spending down a savings account… you know, if you start spending your savings account to pay your house note, you got problems.”

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.