Editorial: Davenport gets a break
Editorial

Editorial: Davenport gets a break

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Davenport students and their families should feel fortunate today.

The Iowa School Budget Review Committee narrowly voted last week to let the school district off the hook for $9 million in budget cuts.

The cuts, which the state was demanding as a consequence of the district exceeding its spending authority for several years, would have been devastating. The reductions would have meant getting rid of at least 100 teachers, along with 52 administrators, clerical staffers, operations workers and other employees.

As it is, the district is facing a cut of 25 teachers and 24 other employees, along with additional possible effects. This comes on top of reductions that already have been made.

Still, it could have been worse — a whole lot worse. School officials warned that if these cuts had gone forward some buildings would have been left as "shells."

That's scary.

In part, the school budget review committee's decision was gained by throwing under the bus the previous superintendent, Art Tate, as well as past members of the school board.

In a letter this month to the committee, Robert Kobylski, the Davenport superintendent, said "going back a few years, it is fair to say the district arrogantly misjudged the political, financial and educational repercussions of their defiance."

Pretty rough language. But in their zeal to highlight the gap in spending authority, Tate and the board clearly spent beyond the law. They admitted it. And they weren't alone in their defiance. Plenty in this community, including the Quad-City Times editorial board, backed them up and celebrated them.

There was a reason. The disparity in per pupil spending authority in Iowa, while not always put in context, is real. It still needs fixing, something that is recognized in Des Moines. In fact, House Republicans last week introduced a plan that would close that gap by $10 per student, building on previous steps.

The maximum disparity in per pupil spending authority is now $165. However, only a handful of districts in the state can spend that much more than the others. Across the state, the average per pupil spending authority in fiscal 2020 is $6,905; that exceeds the authorized amount for Davenport and 176 other districts by about $25.

Some of the fuel for the campaign against the inequity was driven by the state's stingy spending increases for K-12 education going back several years. This has been a long-standing problem, and it is one we will continue to highlight. But what we certainly recognize is the campaign to fight the disparity, while yielding some success, also has come at a cost.

The school budget review committee has imposed that cost on Davenport, even if it is not a full accounting.

In the end, we believe the majority of the committee did what was right: They put the best interests of the students first. A full accounting would have come at their expense, and it would have been significant.

We understand the worries about a precedent. One member of the committee complained that Davenport is getting away with what other districts have not. There is some truth to that statement. But we agree with the state-appointed mentor, who called this a unique situation. We also believe the Davenport district will probably pay for this episode in other ways. It's not likely this experience will be forgotten in Des Moines.

All of Davenport should be grateful to David Roederer, Leland Tack and Martha Bruckner, the members of the school budget review committee who voted to relieve this obligation. After the vote, school board and union officials were certainly appreciative. "This is a tremendous relief," School Board President Bruce Potts said last week.

We also recognize the work Kobylski and the new board did to get to this point. A year ago, the picture looked much worse.

The Davenport School District still has a lot of challenges. These problems haven't gone away. But last week's decision by the review committee lifts a huge financial weight from the district's shoulders, and it puts it in a better position to provide students a better education. Ultimately, that is what we all want.

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