By Krystal Fowler - Lifestyle editor
Many school systems around the state and around the country have been dealing with budget cuts and the loss of staff during the past year. Some parents might be worried about how much their children's schools will have changed when they return to classrooms this fall.
Centerville School System was one of many that tried to come up with creative solutions, including an early retirement plan, to help cut costs while not losing quality education services and important programs.
According to Superintendent Rich Turner, parents and students shouldn't even really notice a difference when they come back to school in the fall.
"Going into the new school year we're going to have fewer employees, but we strongly believe that the educational program's not going to be hampered as far as programs in the classroom because we believe we're becoming more efficient, catching up with some of our enrollment reduction," said Turner.
The school implemented budget freezes in the middle of the year, after budget cuts were announced. They also offered early retirement packages to staff members at both the end of the first semester and the end of the year.
"We had seven certified staff take advantage of that and three support staff," said Turner.
Turner said the goal with an early retirement program is to encourage people who are close to retirement already to use the program. Then if the school needs to fill any of the empty positions, they can look towards younger teachers who will cost less to employ.
The school took a chance offering early retirements, since they did not know for sure which teachers would take the offer. Since the way to save the most money is by not replacing positions, they hoped that not very many critical positions would be vacated and also that retirements would be spread across the school system and not concentrated in one grade level area.
"Our goal was to not hire back any of those positions," said Turner.
The school system ended up not having to replace many positions. One they did have to fill was that of Lakeview Elementary principal Mike Halupnick, which was left open when Halupnick opted to take early retirement.
"The success of the early retirement plan in our mind was to get to a certain figure so that we didn't have to eliminate any actual people in positions," said Turner. "We did reach that figure so we didn't have to actually cut anybody's job. We cut positions.”
Besides cutting costs, schools in Iowa also had the option of raising taxes to help with revenue. Although schools were told to spend down their surplus before raising property tax rates, many schools' general funds, including Centerville's, were already in debt at the beginning of the year. Although Centerville had been projected to be out of debt by the end of the 2009-2010 school year, the extreme budget cut of mid-year complicated the school's long-term plans.
"This is the hardest we've been hit and we know things will get better, but not until the state gets better," said Turner.
Although Turner thinks next year the school will face more budget cuts since the state is still facing a budget gap, he was optimistic that in a few years the economic situation would stabilize and schools would be able to bounce back.
"In a couple years, we will probably be adding programs," said Turner.