Clear Lake School Board 1

Clear Lake Superintendent Doug Gee discusses budget items with School Board members Wednesday at a meeting in Clear Lake. 

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette

CLEAR LAKE | The Clear Lake School Board has begun to talk possible spending cuts as it approaches its annual budgeting process.

Superintendent Doug Gee during a planning meeting Wednesday discussed three levels of general fund reductions -- $200,000, $400,000 or $500,000.

“If we reduce by $400,000, that gets us at a point where we are holding steady,” Gee said.

The district is projected to overspend by $970,000 in fiscal 2016, which Gee said is a combination of two things -- overdrawing its unspent balance and a growing special education deficit, which is projected to be about $451,000 that year.

If Clear Lake takes no action, Gee said the level of overspending is expected to grow in coming years.

Both the unspent balance and special education are tied to the district’s general fund, which is primarily designated for teacher salaries.

The special education deficit is expected to grow to about $470,000 in fiscal 2017, Gee said.

Districts across Iowa have long maintained their special education needs are underfunded by the state.

Gee stressed the exact amount of potential reductions would be heavily influenced by early teacher retirements, union negotiations and supplemental state aid, the annual state funding schools receive based on their number of students and state cost per student.

Eight early retirements were approved during a meeting that followed the planning session Wednesday. Since more retirements are anticipated in January, Gee said the exact savings has not been calculated yet.

He was also optimistic the Legislature could loosen restrictions on some categorical funds, lessening stress on Clear Lake’s general fund. Districts currently face strict restrictions on how they can spend certain pools of money.

Gee noted Clear Lake’s general fund has done well in recent years but had reached a point where its cash reserves met the maximum allowed, and no additional property taxes could be levied.

No drastic change to the tax rate is expected next fiscal year, Gee said.

Anticipating a shortfall of nearly $600,000 in 2015, the School Board considered cuts to foreign language and music but ultimately decided to keep those programs intact.

Gee and board members did not pinpoint specific programs, instead talking about class sizes and teacher certifications. No action was taken as the meeting was for planning purposes only.

The board is expected to discuss the issue again in January, before possibly making a decision in February. 

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