WATERLOO — Fewer students are attending Waterloo Community Schools this fall, largely because there are less of its youngest pupils.
The certified enrollment count released by the district shows it had a total of 10,195 students in kindergarten through 12th grade at its 18 schools and specialty programs as of Oct. 1. That is a decrease of 189 students compared to the same point last year.
Superintendent Jane Lindaman said officials believe that, of the decline in district students, “probably 100 to 130 are kindergarten.”
Waterloo Schools was projecting 850-880 kindergartners entering the system this fall based on a percentage of births five years earlier at county hospitals. Instead, there were 750 enrolled on the count date.
School districts annually make the count on the first school day in October and submit it to Iowa Department of Education Oct. 15. The student numbers are used in the formula that determines per-pupil state aid for districts the following year.
Lindaman has been told unofficially by the Department of Education that Waterloo Schools is not alone in its drop. Well over half of public school districts across the state are expected to see an enrollment decline, she said.
Marla Padget, Waterloo Schools’ executive director of student and at-risk services, said she found a number of reasons for the district’s overall decline, often related to the COVID-19 pandemic or economic opportunities.
A virtual kindergarten roundup was held last spring for families of incoming students. In the course of follow-ups by phone, Padget said she learned some people were choosing not to start their child in school because of COVID-19 concerns or restrictions. Kindergarten is not mandatory in Iowa.
She also cited a reduction in the number of English language learners who are new to the district, noting it has become “much harder” for immigrants to get to the U.S.
Among those not returning this fall, there were “quite a few requests” from other districts about students transferring. Moves, often out of state, were related to job searches after people got laid off or needing family assistance.
Enrollment was down at nearly every elementary school, with the decline in students ranging from 12 to 47. The only two schools with more students, Fred Becker Elementary and Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence, saw single-digit increases.
Overall, there were 193 fewer elementary school students.
Enrollment at the district’s four middle schools dropped by 14 students. Most of it came from a 17-student decline at Bunger Middle School and only Hoover Middle School grew, by five students.
High school enrollment was up 18 students, with gains of 28 at East and 19 at West. Expo Alternative Learning Center saw a drop of 29 students.
Budget enrollment was 10,632.53 for Waterloo Schools, also a decrease. The decimal point accounts for students who are not full-time, such as home-school children taking a class through the district. Numerous adjustments are made to the actual number of students attending classes in the district to arrive at the budget enrollment.
“We had fewer students (open) enrolled out, so our budget enrollment was down 241,” said Lindaman. Open enrollment out, one way district residents can be educated outside of the district, totaled 306.6 pupils this fall. Students may also go to school elsewhere because of special needs or other designations.
Home-schooled or private school students who live within the district and take a class through its schools are added to Waterloo’s count. But when resident students are educated in another public school system, the state per-pupil funds are passed on to that district.
Collection of Waterloo Warrior photos
IOWA CITY — County election boards began counting a record number of absentee ballots in Iowa on Monday, racing toward a Tuesday night deadline to have those votes tabulated.
Nearly 956,000 people had sent in their ballots by mail, dropped them off at auditor’s offices or voted early in person as of Monday morning. That is more than half of the likely total statewide turnout, which is expected to exceed 1.6 million.
In all 99 counties, bipartisan election boards could begin counting the absentee votes Monday as allowed by state law. Some were planning to work all day and late into the evening before reconvening Tuesday.
Iowa law calls on counties to take steps to have absentee ballots counted by 10 p.m. on Election Night, an hour after polls will close Tuesday. But mailed ballots that are postmarked by Monday and arrive by noon on Nov. 9 will be counted as they arrive.
County officials say they are confident that, barring an equipment failure, power outage or some other unexpected problem, the boards will complete the counting by 10 p.m. on Tuesday as recommended by state law.
They noted the largest counties have new high-speed machines that can process thousands of ballots per hour, and counties were given extra time to begin processing ballots this year.
Under an emergency directive from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, counties were given permission to meet Saturday to begin processing ballots before Monday’s count began.
“I believe and have faith we are going to do like we always have and deliver on time and look good,” said Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz, the chairwoman of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors.
Iowa is considered a competitive state in the presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, who are trying to win Iowa’s six electoral votes. A Senate race between Republican incumbent Joni Ernst and Democrat Theresa Greenfield could also help decide partisan control of the U.S. Senate.
Democrats said Monday they are preparing for any potential Republican effort to stop the counting of absentee votes at 10 p.m. Tuesday in the event any counties fall behind.
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller, a Democrat, asked the secretary of state’s office last week to confirm in writing that counties had the authority to keep counting if they weren’t done by 10 p.m. Tuesday, as they have had to do on occasion in the past.
Miller noted his county did not complete counting absentee ballots during the June primary until 4 p.m. on Election Day, and has far more to process this election. Miller said he was worried about what would happen if machines broke down in Linn County, the state’s second largest, where about 80,000 absentee votes must be counted.
The state’s director of elections, Heidi Burhans, did not answer his question about the 10 p.m. deadline. Instead, she responded that Linn County should have more than enough time to count all ballots by then.
Miller has been warning fellow county auditors that Pate, a Republican with whom he has often feuded, could try to suspend counting at 10 p.m. in an effort to boost Republicans. The county election board began counting at 7 a.m. Monday and planned to work through the night if necessary in hopes of getting done early, he said.
“We probably wouldn’t be working through the night if we didn’t have this threat,” Miller said.
Pate spokesman Kevin Hall said Monday that “every eligible ballot will be counted. Period.” Pate said at a news conference he was “very comfortable” that counties will be finished by the time polls close.
Moritz, the chairwoman of the auditors association, said any county that hasn’t finished by 10 p.m. Tuesday would be handled on a case-by-case basis. She said she was confident that ultimately every vote would count.
The absentee vote is expected to heavily favor Democrats. More than 121,000 registered Democrats than Republicans have turned in absentee ballots, according to state data.
Republicans said Monday they were encouraged by new data showing they now have 20,000 more registered voters than Democrats statewide, an increase from the previous month. But voters who do not belong to either party are expected to outnumber them at polling places on Tuesday.
WATERLOO — City Council members discussed Monday the possibility of offering a $5,000 incentive for city employees to buy homes in Waterloo’s corporate limits.
The payment, provided through the proposed Municipal Housing Incentive Program, would be given to employees who buy homes and live in Waterloo for at least five years. This includes both future and existing employees. Council members Monday said they would like to see the incentive offered to Waterloo renters who would like to buy homes.
“I think this will really highlight just how important we feel that our city employees are to us,” said council member Dave Boesen, who introduced the proposed resolution.
City employees could get the $5,000 as a lump sum down payment grant, or they could opt to get annual installments of $1,000 for five years, according to the proposal. The funding is expected to come from the same sources as other city incentives, though Mayor Quentin Hart said Monday city officials will need to confirm whether this would be allowed.
“I think a lot of exploration needs to go into this,” said council member Margaret Klein. “It’s going to be very expensive.”
People who received funds could still get other city incentives, such as tax incentives for rehabilitated houses, tax abatements for houses in the Consolidated Urban Revitalization Area and tax abatements for one to two-family homes in the City Limits Revitalization Area.
The proposed resolution said the program would “increase the employee’s investment in the city they work and the citizens they serve.” It adds that employees living in Waterloo would pay property taxes, send their children to local schools, shop in the area and engage in recreational activities.
The resolution would not allow families with more than one city employee to buy multiple houses for more incentive money.
Council members did not say in their Monday work session when the resolution will appear before the council for formal approval.
The proposal comes after the council approved a $5,000 hiring bonus for certified police and fire hires. Boesen said Monday they could receive both their bonuses and the MHIP funds when moving to Waterloo.
The number of people being treated for the coronavirus in Iowa hospitals continued to soar Monday, prompting doctors and hospital officials to warn their facilities and staff could be overwhelmed without serious efforts to curtail the virus spread.
Data from the Iowa Department of Public Health indicated 1,469 new confirmed cases and 17 additional deaths in the past 24 hours. That follows a weekend in which more than 2,800 new cases were reported each day.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from 25.5% on Oct. 18 to 36.4% on Sunday, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Iowa’s rate is now third in the nation behind South Dakota and Wyoming.
Black Hawk County’s 14-day average of cases — 88.9 per day — is now higher than in late April, when it was 82.9 during the surge attributed to Tyson Foods in Waterloo. The county also added one death Monday for a confirmed total since March of 103.
All 99 Iowa counties have a positivity rate above 7.5% and 46 are above 15%, an indication that the virus is aggressively spreading statewide. Black Hawk County has a 14-day positivity average of 18.6%.
Health care professionals said increased hospitalizations typically follow higher positive case rates, leading to concerns that Iowa hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said Iowa is entering it’s third peak, one that is higher than previous ones in May and July. His biggest concern is that this peak is at the beginning of the cold weather season during which the flu and other respiratory conditions typically increase illness and hospitalizations.
“The infection rate is definitely a leading indicator for hospitalizations and the hospitalization rate is a leading indicator of mortality,” he said.
If all Iowans start wearing masks, not gathering in crowds and staying distant from one another there would be a lag of a couple of weeks before we would see impact of the actions, he said.
“At this present infection rate we fully expect the hospitalization rate to increase at least another week to 10 days. What it does after that is really in the hands of Iowans,” he said.
Iowa reported 718 people infected with the coronavirus in hospitals Monday, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic. There were 80 long-term care centers with outbreaks.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has been campaigning for Republican candidates in the past few weeks and has held no statewide press conference for much of October to update Iowans about the situation. She hasn’t announced any new initiatives or mitigation efforts. More than 370 Iowans died during October.
Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said the governor and her team have been monitoring the numbers, talking with hospital officials about resources and capacity and briefing local radio and television stations as she traveled the state campaigning ahead of Tuesday’s election.
“She plans to hold a news conference later this week to update Iowans on the state’s response,” Garrett said.
There was no explanation as to why Reynolds, a supporter of President Donald Trump who has joined him and other administration officials at Iowa events, was waiting until after Election Day to announce updates. Trump has played down the pandemic and frequently says the situation is improving even as virus infections worsen nationally and especially in many Midwestern states, including Iowa. Reynolds has placed responsibility for slowing the spread on Iowans taking individual responsibility.
Garrett said the state is putting in place a plan to help hospitals deal with workforce issues and working on updates to the state’s online COVID-19 tracking website to better display data.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen said Reynolds needs to issue a mask mandate and make clear Iowa’s deteriorating situation “so Iowans don’t have a false sense of security that everything is OK when it isn’t.”
“Now our hospitals are overwhelmed and we’ve got a governor gallivanting around at super-spreader events and Republican candidates knocking doors without facemasks,” she said.