Jackson schools avoid budget cuts

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jackson parents will have to fork over more money for school lunches next year, but they won't see the financial constraints apparent elsewhere.

School districts nationally have had to slash budgets, lay off teachers or cancel programming as utility, fuel and food prices rise. The Jackson School District weathered the increases without forced cuts.

The school board approved a $42.3 million budget Tuesday that funds technology upgrades, the big-ticket purchase of three buses and teacher raises averaging 3 percent. While the district is feeling a financial pinch, increases in state aid and local tax revenue are expected to offset most of the increases in operating costs.

Parents will front part of the increasing school cafeteria bills. A price increase will add 50 cents to the cost of each meal, meaning a family with three children will pay $525 more a year. The district will still be forced to dip into reserves for the second straight year to make the budget balanced.

"I think everyone that goes to the grocery store realizes everything is costing more for us. It's no different for institutions," board president Terri Tomlin said.

Operating expenses are increasing at a rapid rate. The district has budgeted for an 11.7 percent increase in electric costs, a 71.4 percent increase in bus diesel costs, and an 8 percent increase in food costs. Overall revenue is increasing 4.5 percent.

Administrators plan to use $125,000 from operating reserves in the year beginning July 1, less than the $900,000 used this fiscal year. They anticipate an operating fund balance of about 8 percent of total operating expenditures, higher than what the state requires.

Dr. Jim Welker, assistant superintendent for finance, stressed the district is conservative in budgeting. He said the district may not be feeling the severe financial pressures other districts are because "the region is fairly stable in terms of the economy."

The new state funding formula, which is gradually being implemented, will net the district an increase of between $650,000 and $700,000, and local tax revenue has increased from new construction, Welker said.

Parents expressed concern Wednesday about the higher lunch prices and the size of classes. The district has an average teacher-student ratio of 1:21, while the state average is 1:18. Last year's budget provided funding for eight new certified positions, but none will be added this year.

"I believe we'll have one teacher less than last year," Welker said. "We're fairly stable in terms of staffing needs. We could always use more, but over the last several years enrollment has kind of flattened out."

Parent Cassandra Johnston said the increase in lunch prices will hit her wallet. She only has one child in school now, but worries how much she will have to pay by the time her two other children reach school age.

"We don't like to operate in the black, which means we don't subsidize it," superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson told board members, before they unanimously approved the meal price increase.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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