NEW MADRID - Budgeting for Missouri schools has become a matter of "best guess."
As the state's politicians wrangle in Jefferson City, school officials, including those at New Madrid County R-1, are watching the bottom line in public education funding. But even at the end of the special session, local school officials say they will still be unsure of how much funding to expect as they begin their budget year July 1.
"The problem is that even once the (state) budget is adopted there is no guarantee that the money will be there to fund it," said Dr. Mike Barnes, superintendent at New Madrid County R-1.
This, he explained, is what happened last year. The state adopted a budget designed to provide schools a set funding amount but "as most people know by now, tens of millions of those dollars that Missouri's schools based their budgets on this year were never received," said Barnes.
The R-1 District will base the budget on what Barnes and Paul Northington, the district's director of business and finance, described as the "worst-case scenario." The projected $15.1 million budget for the R-1 district for 2003-04 will have about a $100,000 deficit, but adequate fund balances will keep the district in a positive funding position, Northington said.
To meet the continued cuts in funding, not only on the state but also the federal level, the district has eliminated seven teaching positions. Four of the cuts were made by not filling positions held by retiring teachers, three teachers were not rehired. Also a central office administration position was eliminated saving the district some $45,000.
The district is also working to create savings elsewhere. There are no major building projects or refurbishing being done in the classrooms this summer.
With one of the largest school districts in the state in terms of square miles, Barnes noted that state funding cuts in transportation have had a big impact on the district. R-1 school officials are looking at ways to keep transportation costs down, including reorganizing bus routes that will move elementary students from the Parma area into the school building at Lilbourn rather than Matthews, where the students were previously bused.
The R-1 District received word last week that federal vocational program funds would not be received and in response cut equipment and other technology items from the budget that were to be provided through the grant.
Barnes said although the budget year will begin July 1, it will continue to be an evolving process. The district will set its tax rate later after receiving the property assessments from the county. Currently the district's tax rate is $2.28 with a ceiling of $2.75 (plus debt service). Barnes said the rate will increase over last year's.
"As things develop and change, our budget will change," said Barnes. And he added, he doesn't expect the budget outlook to get better, with a bleak outlook for funding from the state. "It is going to get a lot worse before it gets better on the state level," he predicted.
"For the time being, we've put ourselves in a position to weather the storm a little better than most districts. But that's not to say that we haven't been or won't be affected by the state budget crisis. We have to do what is in the best interests of the district and to keep financially solvent," said Barnes about the district's budget.
"But as we continue to lose state and federal monies, either our local taxpayers must be willing to pay to keep class sizes at desirable levels, to keep an attractive variety of course offerings, to keep the district's athletic programs intact and/or to maintain the district's ability to attract and retain well-qualified staff members or they will begin to see a noticeable decline in what the district can afford to provide for its students. That might sound a little cut and dry to some but for me to sugarcoat the inevitable would be a disservice to our students."