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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Des Moines schools received a whopping $41 million in the latest round of CARES Act funding — more than any other Iowa school district.

Why it matters: The money comes as budget cuts loom, and are expected to be steeper due to the impact of COVID-19, Shashank Aurora, the district's chief financial officer, told Axios in an interview.

Driving the cuts:

  • Fall 2020 enrollment dropped by 1,165 students, potentially losing the district $8 million in state aid.
  • At-home learning contributed to a drop in revenues in FY 2021, while expenses remained the same.
    • For example: DMPS kept nutrition staff on payroll, but school lunches were down a third, leading to a $1.5 million loss last year, Aurora said.

DMPS plans to cut $20 million from FY 2022 — $6 million more than the initial $14 million reduction plan.

  • Everything is on the table, including possible staff and program cuts, Aurora told Axios.

DMPS has until September 2023 to spend the CARES Act money, but Aurora said there are some immediate expenses they plan to cover:

  • Substitute teacher bonuses, which are being used to incentivize those educators to return to classrooms. $200k.
  • Paid leave. $500k.
  • Metro Kids Care. The district's childcare service is still paying staff, though student attendance is down to a quarter of what it was pre-pandemic. $1m.
  • Technology and hot spot leases. $1m.

Iowa's new law requiring daily in-person classes will continue to strain the budget, Aurora said, though there may be some indirect savings as well.

  • PPE and cleaning costs will increase, but the district may gain revenue from lunches and after-school programs, Aurora said.

Future budget cuts depend on the funding Iowa legislators set this session, Aurora said.

  • Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended a 2.5% increase in supplemental state aid.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

Go deeper

Feb 10, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

The challenge ahead for Des Moines hotels

Data: STR; Chart: Axios Visuals

Despite a devastating dip in business due to the pandemic, Des Moines hotels are starting to see small gains from events like the Feb. 2-4 Iowa Ag Expo and the State Wrestling Championships set to take place later this month.

The big picture: Bouncing back to pre-pandemic occupancy rides on the success of the vaccine rollout, Greg Edwards, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Axios.

Twin Cities Catholic schools see spike in enrollment after decade-long decline

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Catholic schools across the metro are reporting a boost in interest amid the pandemic, reversing a decade-long decline.

By the numbers: Overall enrollment is up 1,000 students from the 2019-2020 school year, per the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE), an Edina-based nonprofit representing 79 local PreK-8 Catholic schools.

Mysterious elevated chloride levels documented in Des Moines streams

An area of Fourmile Creek in northern Polk County is part of an ongoing water monitoring program. Photo courtesy of Polk County Water Quality Monitoring Program

Elevated levels of chloride have been consistently documented in at least 11 metro area stream test sites, according to a new report from the Polk County Conservation Board.

Why it matters: Excessive amounts of the naturally occurring element can be toxic to some aquatic life and could make stream water, which feeds into DSM drinking water sources, taste salty.

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