Feb 11, 2021 - News

COVID relief eases Des Moines Public School's budget pains

Illustration of a hundred-dollar bill into which coronavirus has burned a smoking hole.

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.


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