Estherville Lincoln Central Board of Education members had a tough decision to make Monday when they went ahead with recommendations for certified staff cuts. As a result, the district is either reducing or moving several positions to make a targeted $371,000 in cuts.
The fact the decision wasn't easy was apparent last week when the board was deadlocked with six members present. This week, with seven members, the cuts passed 4-3.
"That's probably the worst position I've ever been in on the school board," said Jodie Greig, herself a parent of two children at ELC, who as president cast the tie-breaking vote.
The board's hands are tied in a lot of ways. First, there's the perennial political football of not knowing what allowable growth will be. While Iowa school districts know that number will be 2 percent for 2012-13, they don't know what it will be for the following year - something school boards really need to know over the long haul.
There's also unfunded mandates and manacles on how budgets can be spent. There might be all kinds of money for one area, but a deficit in another. It just doesn't make sense.
And then there's the continued problem of enrollment. With state aid coming in at $5,901 a year per student for ELC - and future numbers uncertain - that could easily make that 2 percent growth a net loss.
School boards in rural areas and small towns throughout Iowa are all trying to push a boulder uphill - and not have it roll back on top of them. They're having to make decisions and make cuts they don't want to.
Spurring economic growth might be one answer. That would increase the tax base plus bring in families - young families with children - that would help our district with state aid.
But the system is basically broken. When school districts that are both property and student rich continue to thrive while those with stagnant property values and declining numbers are threatened, the system isn't working.
What we need is a concerted effort - a task force comprised of school districts, state lawmakers, business, industry and taxpayers - to hammer out Iowa's school funding problem so school districts are treated equitably and so students have the same educational opportunities - no matter where they live.
And we need to do it now.