Extending state incentives for Iowa schools that merge

DES MOINES — Key lawmakers are advancing a plan to continue providing state incentives to Iowa school districts that merge with others. The financial incentives for mergers, along with extra state money for neighboring districts that begin sharing buildings as well as teachers and staff, are set to end next year.

Dave Wilkerson of the School Administrators of Iowa says the extra state support eases the burden on taxpayers if a district enters a merger with a significantly lower property tax base than its neighbor.

“If you’re been in one of those districts when a reorganization takes place — and I was teaching in a district when that did, this helps,” Wilkerson says.

School districts that merge or enter what are called “whole grade sharing” arrangements get state incentives for the first three years the deal is in place. Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, is chairman of the House Education Committee.  He supports continuing the practice.

“I have a couple of school districts in my area right now that are talking about the possibility of whole grade sharing with another school district that could lead to sharing or dissolution or whatever,” Dolecheck says. “I think these are important to allow those talks to take place, those discussions to take place.”

About 19 percent of Iowa school districts currently have “whole grade sharing” agreements.