Nearly $1 million in budget cuts planned for Grinnell-Newburg schools

Chris Starrett, president of the Grinnell-Newburg Board of Education, said this upcoming school years budget cuts is just the beginning at a Feb. 28 board meeting.
Chris Starrett, president of the Grinnell-Newburg Board of Education, said this upcoming school year’s budget cuts “is just the beginning” at a Feb. 28 board meeting.
Nina Baker

The Grinnell-Newburg Community School District plans to cut more than $900,000 from its budget for the coming 2024-2025 school year, the district’s board of education said at its biweekly meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 28. 

The Grinnell-Newburg district currently runs a general fund deficit of over $950,000, according to the district’s January financial report. The general fund encompasses employee salaries, supplies and most day-to-day expenditures unlike specific funds like the district’s activity fund or the nutrition fund. 

Chris Starrett, president of the board of education, said that in addition to this year’s cuts, another $800,000 to $1 million in funds will be cut for the 2025-2026 academic year with the potential for further reductions the year after. 

“This is just the beginning. This is just the first phase. We’re looking at a second and third phase,” he said to an audience of 40 teachers, administrators and district staff. “This is the last thing I ever wanted to do as a school board member. But it’s still hard to do.”

Steven Barber, interim superintendent for the district, said at the meeting that the specific cuts were determined among board members following consultation with the district’s principals. 

The cuts include the elimination of 17 positions, including, but not limited to, a health professional, a custodian, the 5th and 6th-grade success coach, two middle school co-teachers and a library assistant. 

This is just the beginning. This is just the first phase. We’re looking at a second and third phase.

— Chris Starrett, president of the Grinnell-Newburg Board of Education

The district also plans to remove after-school homework assistance, a girls’ fitness club and summer school at the Grinnell Middle School. 

According to employees who spoke during public comments at the meeting, the spreadsheet outlining the budget cuts contained multiple inaccuracies. 

Kim Weber, a Grinnell High School nurse who also provides help at Bailey Park and Fairview Elementary School, said the spreadsheet misrepresented the role of a health professional as hired specifically to assist students with diabetes. 

“She was not hired for two diabetic students,” Weber said. “That is not correct. She was hired during COVID because we needed help.” 

The Grinnell-Newburg Community School District currently employs two registered nurses across five buildings. Without additional support, both nurses will face even more difficulty managing the complex and recurrent health concerns of students across the district, Weber said. 

Starrett added that if the district does not make sufficient cuts soon, the Iowa Department of Education will be responsible for initiating the cuts, with full discretion on which positions and operations to reduce. 

In an interview with The S&B, Starrett said the cuts arise from sharp declines in enrollment across class years. 

In Iowa, school districts receive funding from the state at a rate of $7,635 per pupil. Grinnell residents continue to grow older, Starrett said, resulting in fewer students who enroll in the district. While the current sophomore, junior and senior high school class years enroll between 120 and 130 students per year, kindergarten through high school freshman class years enroll between 90 and 100 students, according to Starrett. 

Starrett said he thinks the impending cuts contributed to the district’s inability to hire a long-term superintendent for the coming years. The district has gone without a permanent superintendent since June, when former superintendent Janet Stutz resigned. In January, the board selected 3 finalists from a pool of 20 applicants. Every finalist declined the position. 

“If somebody has to come in and they have to make budget cuts, it’s hard to do. It’s very hard to do,” he said. 

The three finalists were Tara Paul, superintendent of Estherville Lincoln Central Community School District, Joseph Erickson, superintendent of North Iowa Community School District, and Scott Bridges, superintendent of Melcher-Dallas and Twin Cedars Community School Districts. 

Paul and Bridges could not be reached for comment. Erickson, who submitted comments to The S&B over email, did not respond to a request for comment on whether budget cuts were a factor in his decision to decline the role. 

Following the candidates’ rejections, the board announced in a press release on Feb. 9 that the district plans to hire another interim superintendent for the 2024-2025 school year. 

Henry Loomis

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    Susan McIntyreApr 6, 2024 at 8:43 am

    Does the big drop in enrollment have anything to do with the big local Christian school and vouchers?