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Davenport school superintendent balancing necessary cuts against key programs

DAVENPORT -- Davenport schools must deal with a three-year plan that cuts about $18 million from programs and staffing.

The district continues to lose students while paying more for salaries and benefits.

"If you're getting paid by the student, which we are, it's really hard to run a district," said Davenport schools superintendent Dr. Art Tate, in a one-on-one interview Jan. 24.

The district lost more than 300 students over the past year. The district has 3,000 fewer students enrolled now than it did in 1991.

"We had more dropouts than we did the year before," Dr. Tate continued. "The other was people actually moving out of the city."

That's forcing the district of 14,490 students to consider drastic cuts. Tate said state funding just isn't enough to match rising salaries and benefits.

"We wanted to continue every possible program because we care about our students," said Dr. Tate. "We care about our families, care about our communities. We just can't keep doing that."

Dr. Tate plans to reduce staffing through retirements and attrition, gradually increase some class sizes and close an unnamed school by 2020 among other moves.

Adding students to classes is especially painful for the superintendent.

"We're going to spread it out the best we can, but I'd rather not do that," he said.

Dr. Tate also vows to keep spending district reserves to protest a funding formula that shortchanges Davenport students and dozens of other Iowa districts.

He currently faces a state ethics complaint and risks losing his job over the matter.

"It's just not right," he said.  "It's just not fair."

The Davenport dilemma comes down to a toxic mix of economics, politics and education.

"We just have needs, programs and personnel that I can't meet," he concluded.

The school board will deliver a budget by March 26, 2017.