Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Budget Cuts: Short-term symbolic gestures and long-term sustainability

There has been significant discussion of the impending budget cuts for the Iowa City School District (ICCSD). A summary of the budget cuts are found here. I don't have much to add to the discussion about these budget cuts. The district is in a difficult situation -- partly its own making and partly the result of years upon years of the state not providing increases in the budget that matched or exceeded cost of living changes.

As I understand it, these budget cuts are a result of two major factors: first, the ICCSD has been giving raises to teachers and staff that regularly exceed the increase offered by the state in a given year -- referred to as supplemental state allocation (SSA) or "allowable growth". Second, this trend had not resulted in programming cuts because the ICCSD was receiving various grants to compensate, and those grants have been eliminated. 

Because of this situation, I don't see a great alternative to what the administration is proposing right now. My only suggestion is symbolic in the short-term, but gives a pattern for long-term sustainable growth. That is, I'd suggest that the administration make an immediate change for its non-union employees (to include central administration employees at the very top and on down) to only receive a cost-of-living raise equivalent to the mean of the allowable growth percentage for the last five years. From what I understand, there was a 4.5% cost of living adjustment across the board in the ICCSD last year, and I'm suggesting based on the last five years, assuming my figures are correct, something more like a 2.1% cost-of-living raise. I realize that this change will be rather minimal in its budgetary impact now, and it probably would be insufficient to save any of the programs slated to be cut. Nevertheless, it is a good symbolic gesture to the community and it creates a more sustainable pattern for future raise increases. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, I think it could provide some justification for adopting a similar, sustainable model for all teachers and staff. 

To be honest, I really hate to express that view -- our teachers and staff deserve better. They deserve raises that approximate, at the very least, the annual cost-of-living increases. But I don't see a way to accomplish that in a sustainable way without more regular and larger increases in allowable growth rates. That's why I think it is probably best to tie cost-of-living adjustments to the allowable growth rate in some fashion. Of course, I am completely and utterly ignorant about how negotiations with the respective unions tend to go, so my suggested model may be fraught with challenges from the beginning. 

A slight variation of this model -- and perhaps one that benefits employees in the ICCSD that are least well off -- is to have employees that receive salaries above the median (or those above the 75% mark?) salary for all full-time district employees receiving cost-of-living adjustments equal to the mean of the allowable growth percentage for the last five years minus 1 percentage point, and the amount of money saved by that change could be used to further boost raises for those at or below the median (or those at or below the 75% mark). I think this proposal would be more just and fair than a set percentage for all, but I suspect it would be harder to implement.

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