Jackson OKs new budget with worries

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

After making severe cuts to staff and expenditures for the coming school year, Jackson School District officials are now concerned that any future funding losses may mean eliminating programs and asking voters for a local tax increase.

During their Tuesday evening meeting, members of the Jackson School Board passed a budget for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1, with a $1.76 million spending deficit.

"It's been the most difficult year that I can remember to try to create a budget," said assistant superintendent Jim Welker. "There are certain things about this budget we just can't feel good about. That's unfortunate, but there's nothing we can do about it."

In order to maintain fund balances above the state-required 3 percent, the district was forced to allocate less funding to capital projects, such as technology purchases and maintenance work, for 2003-04.

The move will leave the district with a little over $1 million in reserve at the end of next year, just enough to cover about a month's worth of expenditures if the district unexpectedly stopped receiving revenue. Districts are required to maintain fund balances above 3 percent of expenditures or risk losing control of the budget to state officials.

Waiting on state cuts

Although the district passed a budget that included $29 million in expenditures, Welker said many of those expenses, such as the purchase of new school buses, may be put on hold until the full extent of the state cuts is known.

The district has eliminated a total of 17 teaching positions by not replacing employees who have retired or resigned for the coming school year. The move will save the district $350,000, but that's not nearly enough to cover the total loss of funding from state, which officials are anticipating to be around $1.4 million.

"This district is run very efficiently," superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson said. "But what's happening with the economy and a lack of revenue from the state is going to take a toll, we can't pretend it's not. We're really stretching our staff, and something's got to give eventually."

Anderson said if budget woes continue, programs will be at risk and the district will consider seeking additional local revenue such as property taxes.

"We cannot continue with the money we have without offering less to our students," Anderson said.

On Tuesday, board members discussed the potential impact continued state cuts might have on schools, and how district patrons are perceiving the funding loss.

"The cuts we've made so far are significant, but they're silent," said board member T. Wayne Lewis. "It's not like people can see broken windows or bricks that need to be repaired."

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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