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Iowa Board of Regents approves Price Lab School closure

Diane Heldt, CR Gazette –

The state Board of Regents on Monday approved the University of Northern Iowa plan to close Malcolm Price Lab School as part of budget cuts.

The regents approved the June 30 school closure during a telephonic meeting Monday. Eight regents voted in favor of closing the school, with Regent Bob Downer of Iowa City abstaining from the vote after citing concerns that the board should seek the advice of the Iowa Attorney General’s office before taking the action.

UNI President Ben Allen, in making the Price Lab recommendation last week, said closing the school could save up to $2 million annually. A need to replace or renovate the aging school, and the school’s small class sizes and high per-student cost make it hard to sustain during a time of tighter budgets for UNI, Allen said.

“It has come to a point now where it is no longer financially feasible for the university to operate its own school and subsidize instruction for elementary and secondary education” students, Allen told the board today.

Several regents said they heard the passionate pleas from parents, students, staff and Iowas with decades of ties to the Price Lab School. But they said the plan makes sense financially, and also from a standpoint of providing a more varied field teaching experience for UNI education students.

“There is no question to me that there’s something very special happening at Price Lab and that there will be some loss in a decision should we take it in order to move forward,” Regent David Miles of Dallas Center said in supporting the plan.

Miles also noted “this should be a wake-up call to the damage” ongoing state budget cuts have caused to the state’s public universities.

The board restated their full confidence in Allen and his leadership as president.

Emotional parents, students and staff implored Allen to reconsider the decision during three school meetings last week attended by hundreds.

It’s unknown how many job losses may result from the school’s closure, Allen said. Also unknown at this point is how UNI will replace the research and development portion of the Price Lab School, Allen said. The school’s 350 students in preK-12 would go to other area schools once Price closes.

UNI officials have spent months looking at ways to cut the budget, as state appropriations makes up less of the university’s funding and student tuition dollars make up more. UNI’s enrollment is 92 percent in-state students, who pay much less in tuition than do out-of-state students, putting UNI in a different situation regarding state budget cuts compared to Iowa State University and the University of Iowa.

Allen last week also announced plans to close the UNI Museum building, outsource Print Services and reduce the university contribution to the athletics department by an additional $500,000 over the next three years. Those cuts would contribute an additional $1.1 million, officials said.

Cuts to smaller academic programs likely will be announced this week, UNI officials have said.

The recommended changes and cost savings will allow UNI to invest in programs where there is the greatest demand and need, Allen said. UNI has for months been seeking ways to trim the budget after losing about $24 million in state funding the past several years; the university began this year with a $5 million shortfall.

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