State teachers association questions large reserves

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Unhappy with the hundreds of millions of dollars school districts are carrying over from one year to the next, the Missouri State Teachers Association wants the legislature to consider capping end-of-year balances.

"The idea is that taxpayers are giving money to districts to spend on students, not to put it into the bank," said Mike Wood, director of governmental relations for the association.

Citing numbers from the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the association said school district balances totaled $1.38 billion statewide when the 2004 fiscal year ended June 30 -- up $143.7 million from a year earlier.

Cape Girardeau School District has around 10 percent of expenditures in reserve while Jackson School District has around 8 percent.

"The state has always recommended 10 percent in the past, and many districts feel more comfortable with more than 10," said Dr. Ron Anderson, superintendent in Jackson. "The reserve is there for major issues, a catastrophe not covered by insurance, higher utilities during a bad winter or, as I've seen, if the state withholds money."

The association acknowledged the carry-over balances were unusually large last year because of a late infusion of state funds. Believing the state budget was unbalanced, former governor Bob Holden initially withheld $210 million in education funding. The money wasn't released until the end of the school year, when most districts didn't have time to spend it.

The association considers an adequate carry-over amount to be 20 percent of a district's general operating funds. But 333 of the state's 524 districts had ending balances that exceeded that amount. Districts carried over a grand total of $132 million above that 20 percent mark.

Staff writer Callie Clark contributed to this report.

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