Town and school board budgets reflect the times

Amid the recent announcement that the U.S. economy has officially been in a recession for almost a year, the Grinnell-Newberg school district made an announcement on its own fiscal health–that a $500,000 cut must be made to their budget for the coming school year.

Enrollment in the Grinnell-Newberg school district has been in steady decline over the past decade, falling from almost 2,000 students in 1997 to just over 1,700 last year. Because Iowa gives districts funding based on enrollment, this has caused problems for the district.

“Student enrollment has been steadily declining for the last 15 years …” said Grinnell-Newberg Superintendent Edie Eckles. “However … our annual expenditures have not decreased proportionally. They have, in fact, increased.”

This problem is not sudden and the district has been working on it since last spring, when they had to dip into their reserves to cover their budget. According to administrators, the reason the district did not make a major cut last year was because of the desire for community input.

“People said that ‘This was coming to us too soon, we’d really like you to delay making severe cuts, because we’d like time to think about it,'” Eckles said.

In the meantime, the district made what Eckles called “soft cuts,” such as delaying the purchase of new textbooks or trying to reduce energy costs. Some of these attempts were not so successful.

“I have not seen anybody trying real hard to save energy,” said Eric Pederson, president of the School Board.

Last month, the time came to discuss major cuts to the budget and the district hosted a meeting, inviting all community members for input. The response was varied and at times contradictory–some asked for a four-day week and others wanted year round schooling.

“With those kinds of dichotomous responses, we won’t please everyone,” Eckles said.

School Board members said they will note these suggestions as they try to balance the budget, which is to be finalized in mid-February of next year.

Ê”The role of the school board is to take the feeling of the community and adjust and find out what’s best for the community,” Pederson said.

Overall, the school district recognizes the severity of the fiscal situation, but feel that they have the resources to make the changes they need without too great an impact on the community.

“We are not in dire straights,” Eckles said. “We should have been trimming the budget all along, we didn’t and now were going to have to.”