Iowa City Community School District experiencing rising prices, employee shortages

The school district is struggling to combat increased costs of bussing, student meals, employee wages, and retention.


Emily Nyberg, News Reporter

The Iowa City Community School District is facing a multitude of financial problems because inflation is raising the price of various supplies.

The school district will spend more money on construction materials, fuel, and food for the 2022-23 school year. 

Chace Ramey, deputy superintendent of the ICCSD, said the district is struggling, but other school districts are worse.

“The shortages obviously exist, but we see Iowa City as a destination district for teachers and a place that they’d like to come to,” Ramey said. “And there are a number of different factors for that, so we have not been as negatively impacted as some districts.”

Across the U.S., resources are coming up short, and costs are rising on nearly everything. According to data from the U.S. Labor Department, the 2022 annual inflation rate for the United States is 8.5 percent, while the 2021 rate was 7 percent.

Construction material prices are rising, but the school district has not canceled any major projects. 

“Costs have gone up due to supply chain problems and timing of getting materials, and so we have seen that impact some of our projects,” Ramey said. 

Major projects in the district are underway at Iowa City West High School, including the addition of a new administrative office, student commons, entrance security, improved music rooms, and fine arts HVAC. 

Ramey said the district worried projects would be delayed, but all have remained on track. 

“Our projects are still on time, in accordance with our facility master plan,” Ramey said. “We did put out a new timeline, but that was because of the change of scope, and change of timing on projects at West High School and Hills Elementary. But we’ve been able to project in a way that we’ve not had to take anything off of the table.”

Ramey said the school district is working hard to stay within their set budget to keep consistent with the costs they proposed to families.

“Figures are set almost a year in advance, and there are things that when costs fluctuate, we have to watch those as we move through the year to make sure we stay within our budget,” he said. “We are constantly trying to be good stewards of our taxpayer’s dollars.”

Food costs are also impacting the school district directly.

Alison Demory, director of ICCSD nutrition services, said families are feeling the effects of the federal free lunch program for all students ending in the district. 

“We have seen an increase in our families that are eligible,” Demory said. “We have 500 more kids that have qualified for free and reduced benefits than last year.”

Additionally, staffing shortages are impacting nutrition services in ICCSD, Demory said.

“We’ve also had to increase our wages for staff with all the challenges we have with recruiting and retaining staff,” Demory said. “Our food costs have gone up, but so have our labor costs, so our meal cost went up as well.”

Increased transportation costs also hit the district. ICCSD has a contract with Iowa Central School Bus that was renewed in July 2022. The contract price increased from 2019. 

Robert Hamel, contract manager for Iowa Central School Bus, said there are multiple factors at play when determining contract prices.

RELATED: Iowa City Community School District leaders consider possible year-round schedules

Three years ago, the new buses were purchased that now need to be paid off alongside other costs, Hamel said.

“You have insurance costs; you have wages for employees, both the drivers and the full-time staff. And then, depending on the contract, you would also have, potentially, facility rent, gas — things of that nature,” he said.

Hamel said the increased price from the 2019 contract was consistent with rising gas, maintenance, and employee costs.

“It was kind of a standard as to what was going on,” he said.