Schools preparing to cope with state cuts

Sunday, April 4, 2010

As school districts plan their budgets and send out teacher contracts, they are faced with many unknown factors regarding state funds.

Districts are planning for smaller June payments from the state and changes in the funding structure for the upcoming fiscal year, both of which have been described by administrators as moving targets.

The Perry County School District recently amended its $22 million budget by about $200,000 and is planning to reduce costs for next year.

"I'm trying to build a budget that's approximately a half-million dollars less," said superintendent Kevin Dunn. He said the district is expected to lose four or five positions through attrition. The district is also reducing equipment and supply expenses by $300,000, he said.

Stabilization money will run out after the upcoming fiscal year, and districts anticipate tougher choices to be made at the local level. Administrators said they hope to be better prepared to cope with the cuts anticipated for fiscal year 2012, when experts, politicians and state officials predict it will be more difficult to balance budgets.

Dunn said he will set up a committee to help outline ways to cut costs for the following year. The district is also switching from being self-insured to a statewide Missouri educators plan, a change with fixed costs that are easier to budget for, he said.

While districts prepare for cuts in the coming years, they will see reductions this year because the state cannot afford the $43 million midyear payment.

With different proposals in the Missouri Legislature, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education outlined three scenarios for reductions in the June payment to school districts. For some area districts, the decision will be a difference of more than $130,000.

The Missouri Senate voted Tuesday to support House Bill 2014, which would exempt the 150 districts that did not benefit from the 2005 change in the state's funding formula. The legislation will go back to the House for another vote.

For the Jackson School District, that would mean a $407,000 cut in its $42.5 million budget.

"For us, they went the worst way they could have gone," said superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson.

Another scenario, outlined by the department in February, included a 2 percent cut statewide, a $270,000 cut for Jackson.

The Cape Girardeau School District, which relies less on state funding, could receive a cut between $129,000 and $255,000. If the House bill prevails, it would equal a $159,000 cut to its $43 million budget.

While the district will not have some funding questions answered until the end of the legislative session in May, superintendent Dr. Jim Welker said Tuesday's election could provide some direction.

"There is some of this that somewhat hinges on Tuesday," he said, referring to the district's $40 million bond proposal that will go before voters. Deferred maintenance, including the replacement of roofs and boilers, is part of the plan. District officials hope addressing maintenance needs through the bond issue will free up operating funds.

Welker said the district hopes to absorb positions through attrition. He said he is in discussions with building principals to determine which open positions can be shifted around or cut. Salaries, he said, will probably be frozen.

In Scott City, six full-time positions will be eliminated for next year, including one filled position. Superintendent Diann Bradshaw-Ulmer said the move will save the district $300,000. The district's $8 million budget was cut by $120,000 throughout the year, she said.

"When you set up your budget in the beginning of the year, you always try to allow for extra revenue over expenditures," she said.

Because of an unexpected increase in students attending high school, Bradshaw-Ulmer said, the district received more than expected in tuition. The district is also making an effort to reduce fuel costs.

Districts are also coping with declines in the Proposition C sales tax and transportation funding. For next year, the legislature is considering different approaches to doling out formula funding.

A proposal introduced into the House earlier this month would remove summer school attendance from funding calculations. In 2009, 480 of Missouri's 523 school districts offered summer school programs, according to the department.

By removing the funds, districts will have less money to administer summer school programs. Anderson and Bradshaw-Ulmer said they would restructure their districts' open enrollment summer school programs.

"If they take that out of the formula, we won't be able to drive any funds there," Anderson said.

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave. Cape Girardeau, MO

614 E. Adams St. Jackson, MO

3000 Main St. Scott City, MO

326 College St. Perryville, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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