Some schools scaling back plans despite funding rise

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- There will be no preschool program in the Rolla School District, no librarian in Norborne and fewer new teachers, cooks and custodians than originally planned in Blue Springs.

While spared the cuts that hit much of the rest of the state budget, some Missouri public schools are nonetheless scaling back plans for next year because of a smaller-than-hoped for funding increase.

The state budget for the 2002-2003 school year includes an estimated $133 million increase in the $2 billion base formula for elementary and secondary schools.

But for the first time in years, about two-thirds of Missouri's 524 school districts will not receive the full amount called for under the formula.

To provide "full funding" to all schools would have required at least a $175 million increase in state aid.

Some school superintendents say they will be able to keep up their current program and staff levels, but they won't be able to do much more.

"They may not be able to increase teachers' salaries as much as they might have. They may not be able to reduce class size as much as they might have been able to do," said Chris Straub, the chief lobbyist for the Missouri School Boards' Association. "But all in all, I think most schools are going to come out OK."

Some schools will fare differently than others because of the way the state's funding formula works. Most schools receive state payments based on factors such as their local property tax, the assessed valuation of property and student enrollment.

The higher the local tax rate and enrollment, the more money the state provides. But rising property values can result in less state aid -- an attempt to equal out the mix of state-and-local money available to otherwise wealthy and poor districts.

344 districts

When the state does not provide enough money to fully fund the formula, the first to be affected are school districts with general and teachers' salary tax rates above the state's standard of $2.75 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Based on that, 344 school districts will get less state money next school year than they could have potentially received.

"We're looking for an increase, but we're not projecting to get as much as what we thought we were going to get," said Roger Adamson, a deputy superintendent at the Blue Springs School District.

The suburban Kansas City district still plans to begin an all-day kindergarten program, open a new middle school building and add its 13th elementary school.

"We haven't eliminated any programs, but we will not be hiring some staff that we had planned on hiring," Adamson said. "We are curtailing some things."

No new librarian

For the small, rural Norborne School District, the estimated $133 million statewide funding increase could mean an extra $5,000 to $6,000, said superintendent Doug Carpenter.

District voters had raised their property taxes last year. But since the state is not fully funding its formula, the Norborne district won't get the full benefit that a higher tax rate typically would bring.

"We were looking to possibly add a librarian this year, but I decided not to do that and to try to put as much money as possible in the salary schedule," Carpenter said.

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