School Board adopts proposed budget figures – District awaits delayed state funding data for schools

By Roz Weis,

In an effort to meet the March 15 deadline for submitting budget proposals to the State of Iowa, the Decorah Community School District (DCSD) Board of Directors approved a measure Monday night estimating Supplemental State Aid (SSA) and projecting a tax levy of $12.55 per thousand, with the understanding that the tax rate can be lowered before a budget is finalized.

In recent years, tax rates have been $13.82682 for fiscal year (FY) 2019; $12.15797 for FY2020; $12.33702 for FY2021; $12.40427 for FY2022; and $12.35907 for FY2023.

The Decorah district joins other Iowa schools in attempts to prepare a first draft of their budget, with no final figures supplied by the state for setting funding for schools. This lack of state funding calculations has the local board in unchartered territory.

In estimating the budget for 2024-25, DCSD Superintendent Tim Cronin, District Business Manager Cathy Dietzenbach and board members applied a Supplemental State Aid roadmap, or “new money calculator”, provided by the Iowa Association of School Boards.

A measure of the state’s commitment to public schools is “Supplemental State Aid,” or SSA, formerly known as “allowable growth.” Iowa school district budgets are set by a state formula based on an enrollment (the “cost per pupil”) funded by a mix of state aid and local property tax. Each year that cost per pupil is revised by SSA. 

Cronin said, “SSA is hopefully three percent this year, and in the last 10 years the range has been between one and four percent.”

In a written comment following Monday night’s monthly board meeting, Cronin explained the process:

“We are reaching out to inform you about a crucial aspect of the Decorah Community School District’s financial planning, particularly in light of the new Iowa Law called House File 718 and the upcoming budget publication deadline on March 15.

As mandated by Iowa law, school districts are required to submit their budgets by March 15 to the county auditor. However, the challenge we currently face is the absence of a set Supplemental State Aid (SSA) for the upcoming year. SSA, the per-pupil state aid for K-12 public schools, significantly influences the overall tax rate, a key component of our budgetary considerations.

Although Iowa law requires the legislature to establish the level of SSA within 30 days of the governor releasing her proposed budget, that deadline has passed, without the level of SSA for the upcoming year being established. In light of this uncertainty, the Decorah Community School District has taken the responsible step of estimating the SSA at 3%, resulting in an overall tax rate of $12.37. This estimate aligns with tax rates in previous years.

However, should the legislature set an SSA lower than 3%, it will impact our overall tax rate. In anticipation of this, the district will submit a budget on March 15 with a conservative estimate, assuming a 0% SSA, leading to a tax rate of $12.55. This precautionary measure is taken to ensure compliance with the statutory deadline.

It is important to note that the School Board retains the authority to revise the budget after the SSA is established. In the event that the SSA aligns with our initial estimate of 3%, the board has the capacity to pass a lower tax rate, reverting back to $12.37. Please be aware that the Board is only permitted to reduce the tax rate and is not authorized to increase it.

We acknowledge the potential impact on our community, and we assure you that this matter is entirely contingent on the timely setting of SSA by the legislature. We remain committed to transparency and responsible fiscal management.

Thank you for your understanding and continued support as we navigate these budgetary complexities. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out.” – DCSD Supt. Tim Cronin.

Board members will revisit the budget estimates and tax rate once the SSA figures are released from the state.

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