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Iowa superintendents seek state help with heating bills

Associated Press

MASON CITY, Iowa -- Tight budgets and lost state dollars are prompting public school superintendents to call for state help to pay high heating bills this winter.

State lawmakers, school officials and business leaders attended an energy summit at North Iowa Area Community College on Monday to discuss who will pay increasing fuel costs.

David Bradley, Charles City superintendent, said the state should provide school districts that have lost revenue with financial assistance to help cover the increases.

"We should have been doing this a long time ago," said Bradley, a past president of the Iowa Association of School Business Officials.

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He said his district has lost an average of 37.5 students a year in the past 10 years because of declining enrollment.

"That adds up to real money," he said. To offset that loss, the Charles City district has reduced staff and programs and closed one elementary school.

"We think we've gotten to the point where there's no fat left to cut," Bradley said. "We're talking things that affect student learning."

The budget picture gets even bleaker with natural gas prices expected to be 67 percent higher than last winter, and diesel and gas prices that are projected to be 40 percent higher, he said.

That means the Charles City district could spend about $140,000 more on fuel this winter than last winter, Bradley said.

"That's four teachers," he said.

Bradley said a district committee will recommend the district enter into an energy management program with a Texas company. The program is used in Mason City and has saved that district about $1.2 million, Bradley said.

The problem is the program is available only at larger schools in the state, he said.

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Bradley said such energy management programs should be made available to smaller school districts.

He said the state should also approve additional funding for the 2005-2006 school year and allow school districts to increase property taxes.

Bradley also said the state should create a program similar to the 1997 Iowa Joint Utility Management Program started by the Iowa Association of School Boards, which involved a zero-interest loan from the DNR, and a pilot program for electricity, possible using producer-owned wind farms.

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