District uses early retirement, gas pool to cut deficit

District uses early retirement, gas pool to cut deficit

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Wapello High School performs its third-place routine in the Class V Poms Division on Thursday at the ISDTA Dance Team Championships in Des Moines.

WAPELLO — Wapello school officials may have found a solution to a possible $255,730 shortfall in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which was created when the district’s student enrollment declined this year.

Superintendent Mike Peterson told the school board Wednesday that early retirements and a switch to a new natural gas risk pool had shaved the anticipated deficit down to $27,782. He also recommended a path forward to erase even that lower amount.

Peterson had told the board during its Dec. 11 meeting that the district’s enrollment had dropped over 37 students this year, meaning if state aid remained at $6,893 per student, the district would need to reduce its budget by the shortfall.

Even before learning at the December meeting about the shortfall, the board had already approved switching to a new natural gas risk pool, which provided projected savings of $80,000.

Then, after receiving the shortfall warning, the school board had approved an early retirement program that would provide eligible certified staff a year’s worth of salary with several distribution options.

Peterson had said that seven certified staffers would be eligible for the program, although he had doubted all of them would accept the offer. He reported Wednesday that three teachers: second grade teacher Judy Gerst, high school physical education teacher Ken Spielbauer and junior high science teacher Merle Unkrich had accepted.

According to a summary sheet provided by Peterson, the savings from the three early retirements should total $147,948, and with the additional $80,000 savings from the natural gas risk pool switch, meant the district’s shortfall had been significantly trimmed.

However, Peterson said the early retirement savings was based on several assumptions.

He said the district’s PE staff would be two full-time people, the junior high science position would be filled by a beginning teacher with a lower salary and the current year’s third grade would be reduced to one section of around 23 students when it moves into fourth grade next year.

The third assumption drew an immediate response from board member Duane Boysen, who said he disliked the idea of that large a class and urged Peterson to find other options.

Other board members indicated they were not as opposed, but agreed Peterson should search for other options.

In the meantime, Peterson also reported the remaining shortfall in the budget might be eliminated by utilizing more of its At-Risk funds. He said a recent loosening of restrictions on how those funds could be used might allow the district to apply more regular expenses to that pool of money.

He said spending more of those funds would also aid the district by allowing it to receive additional At-Risk funds that had not been available in the past.

“(District business manager) Eric (Small) and I are pretty confident we can make up that ($27,782) difference by shifting that At-Risk money,” Peterson said, adding if the administrators are able to accomplish that, no additional personnel cuts would be needed.

“We will keep looking,” Peterson said about possible other savings following his report.

In other action, the school board:

• Approved hiring Laurie Link, elementary special education; and Michael Ecklund, junior high softball coach;

• Accepted the resignation of Ashley Brockway, softball;

• Approved board policies dealing with media relations;

• Agreed to seek proposals to outsource the district’s food service management;

• Set a March 11 public hearing on the district’s 2021 calendar;

• Directed Peterson to conduct a cost analysis and review with county general assistance officials into the possibility of combining local food pantries into one location, which could be the district’s former pre-school building.

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