Ryan Wise (file photo)

The director of the Iowa Department of Education has filed an ethics complaint against an eastern Iowa superintendent who’s tapped into the district’s cash reserves rather than lay off teachers.

“We have a lot of respect for the fact that the superintendent of the Davenport School District is trying to do the right thing for kids,” says Staci Hupp, a spokeswoman for Iowa Department of Education director Ryan Wise. “However, it’s illegal for a school district to overspend its authorized budget and we have an obligation when that happens to file a complaint.”

A couple of years ago, Davenport Superintendent Art Tate began calling on lawmakers to change the formula for distributing state aid to schools. He argues it’s short-changing his district and others. Tate and other Davenport officials appeared before a state panel on Tuesday, seeking permission to spend more than the current legal limit.

“Ultimately, the School Budget Review Committee wasn’t comfortable with granting additional authority to a school district that is intentionally breaking the law,” Hupp says, “so the request…was unanimously denied.”

Hupp says spending cash reserves is not against the law.

“But it’s a violation to overspend your authorized limit when you’re a school district,” Hupp says.

The ethics complaint against Tate has been filed with the Iowa Board of Education Examiners. Last year, Tate said he was willing to risk losing his license to be an educator to make the point that the formula for distributing state school aid should be changed.