JEFFERSON CITY -- The Poplar Bluff, Jackson and Sikeston school districts were the biggest area beneficiaries of Gov. Bob Holden's recent decision to release $75 million he had previously withheld from the public education budget.
Area school officials say the action has eased -- though not necessarily eliminated -- the need to deficit spend this year and should allow some districts to carry slightly stronger budget reserves into the next fiscal year. However, they remain concerned about their long-term financial health.
According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Poplar Bluff's share of the released funds is $418,035. Superintendent Randy Winston said that amount will keep the district out of the red.
"Prior to the release of these funds we were looking at a deficit spend of about $400,000, so this will balance our budget," Winston said.
Jackson is getting the second largest cut among Southeast Missouri districts with $383,111.
"That's a stronger number than we had initially anticipated," said Ron Anderson, the Jackson superintendent.
But with an earlier state funding cut of $1.4 million, Anderson said that still leaves the district $1 million short.
Sikeston is getting back almost as much as Jackson with $380,527. Like Anderson, Sikeston superintendent Stephen Borgsmiller said the money, which school officials had previously written off, will result in a somewhat smaller dent in the district's budget reserve.
"As far as operations and planning, it doesn't change a thing except our bottom line," Borgsmiller said.
Nine other Southeast Missouri districts -- including Kennett, Charleston and Dexter -- will get six-figure shares of the released money, which accounts for roughly one-third of the nearly $200 million Holden withheld from public schools in July as part of his effort to bring the overall state budget into balance.
Holden's action resulted from an unanticipated influx of federal funds Missouri wasn't originally slated to receive until the next state budget year. The education money still being withheld isn't expected to be released by the time the current fiscal year ends June 30.
Districts that rely more heavily on state money are receiving comparatively large portions of the newly available funds. Those such as the Cape Girardeau public schools that get most of their revenue locally are getting relatively little.
Cape Girardeau's cut is $33,050, which is slightly less than the $35,182 going to Oak Ridge, a district with less than one-tenth the student population.
While the released funds are welcome, school officials said the state needs to do much more to support local districts.
More than 200 schools districts are planning to file a lawsuit next week claiming the state has provided inadequate education funding that is unfairly distributed in violation of the Missouri Constitution.
Jackson, Dexter, Kennett, Sikeston, Scott City and Poplar Bluff are among the dozens of Southeast Missouri school systems that have signed on as plaintiffs.
"All of us in education feel like there is going to have to be some kind of revision in the funding formula," Dexter superintendent Dr. Kenneth Jackson said.