Cape school officials seek alternate source of revenue

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Frozen staff salaries and postponed textbook and technology purchases top a list of concerns Cape Girardeau school officials have with the 2004-2005 budget.

The Cape Girardeau School Board approved the $35 million budget at its regular meeting Monday night. The budget, which includes about $1.2 million in budget cuts voted on by the board last January, has a $770,000 deficit.

That deficit cuts into the district's reserve fund balance, but superintendent Mark Bowles said he is most concerned with the state of salaries and putting off the purchase of computers and textbooks for the coming school year.

"If you look around, not many schools have gotten to the point of freezing salaries," Bowles said. "We have to find a revenue source to allow us to unfreeze salaries. That has to be a top priority this year."

One revenue-generating option is to decrease the district's voluntary levy reduction, which would raise property taxes but does not require a public vote.

For the past six years, the school board has chosen to reduce the annual tax levy, so that the district is not taxing to the maximum capacity allowed under state law.

The current tax levy is set at $3.99 per $100 assessed valuation. Since the district's tax ceiling is set at $4.15 annually by the state, the school board could increase the operating levy as much as 16 cents with only the school board's approval. The district considered a similar move in 2002 and 2003, but decided against it after public outcry.

Bowles said the salary freeze netted the district around $350,000 this year. Other significant savings came from the postponement of new computer labs and new textbooks.

Board members expressed a similar concern about the ensuing cost of not making those annual purchases.

"The need for those continues to grow. We're borrowing from the future," said board member Dr. Steve Trautwein. "Or putting a greater burden on the future."

Bowles said the $770,000 deficit is a major improvement from the $2.2 million deficit the district originally faced. A budget task force developed $1.2 million in cutbacks that were eventually approved by the school board in January.

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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