Iowa schools spent nearly $26 million on COVID-related costs but also saw savings

Des Moines Public Schools staff prepare for student laptop pickup at Hoover High School. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines Public Schools)

Iowa school districts reported spending nearly $26 million on unexpected coronavirus-related expenses this last fiscal year, including new technology, personal protective equipment and additional cleaning supplies.

But districts also reported $69 million in cost reductions that stemmed from the spring shutdown, saving schools money on transportation, lunch and janitorial costs, according to a November report from the Iowa Department of Education.

Combined, there was a net impact of $43 million or about $89 per pupil statewide, according to the report. But school districts reported concerns there would be additional, non-budgeted expenses incurred during fiscal year 2021, including reduced fall enrollment that could hurt future funding from the state.

“As the pandemic continues as of the date of this publication, it is unknown when all potential pandemic-related, non-budgeted costs will be identifiable,” according to the department report report.

The Iowa Department of Education required schools to fill out surveys detailing their COVID-19 expenses and budget reductions by Oct. 30.

Expenses and savings varied based on individual decisions from each school district, according to an analysis of the financial reports.

The Mason City school district reported $682,800 in expenses for fiscal year 2020. Unexpected costs included $50,196 in personal protective equipment (PPE), $334,374 in additional custodial costs and $291,740 in additional postage to mail out learning packets.

Meanwhile, the Norwalk school district reported $87,344 in budget savings on substitute teachers and $12,451 on water costs.

Some districts saved money by canceling spring or summer extracurricular activities. Schools that did hold baseball and softball activities over the summer reported increased expenses, however, due to purchasing individual batting helmets and gloves that were shared among players prior to the pandemic.

The median savings for schools districts on transportation costs was about $18,000, though some only reported saving money on fuel. Some districts continued to pay their transportation staff, which was encouraged through CARES Act money, while others still had to pay private bus companies due to contractual obligations.

It’s expected that initial expense reductions and relief funds likely won’t cover all unexpected budget costs at Iowa schools, according to the report.