Columbia Public Schools feeling the effects of state budget's shortfall

Thursday, February 25, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:39 a.m. CDT, Monday, April 26, 2010

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools will not receive $945,441 that it was promised by the state.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a memo Wednesday listing each school district’s expected shortfall because of Gov. Jay Nixon's announcement last month that the state can’t afford the $43 million midyear increase in funds promised to state school districts. The increase is part of the K-12 Education Foundation Formula. 

The midyear increase not being met will result in about a 2 percent reduction in expected funds for each school district.

Columbia Public Schools was scheduled to receive $47,272,056 at the end of the fiscal year. However, with the 2 percent reduction, state funding for the district will be reduced by $945,441.

Superintendent Chris Belcher said the reduction in funds is in the ballpark of what the district expected.

“It was a little bit higher, but there is some discussion on how all that’s going to fall out,” Belcher said.

Gerri Ogle, associate commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the final dollar amount of the shortfall won’t be known until the legislative process plays out.

Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association, said the cuts are disappointing but expected given the circumstances.

“We’re disappointed that these cuts have to be made to schools, but we certainly understand the state’s revenue situation,” Ghan said. “It’s dismal. Education isn’t the only program receiving cuts.”

Ogle said the monthly payments to the state’s school districts won’t be effected, but that shortfall would occur when the final payment of the fiscal year comes in June.

“They need to be planning for a little less money this year and act accordingly for the rest of the school year,” Ogle said. “This memo is a guide. How districts respond is for them to decide.”

Columbia School Board President Jan Mees said the district has to stay on its current path because the issue arose late in the school year.

“At this point in the school year, we have to continue with the promises we made,” Mees said.

While the district continues to operate normally at all of its schools, it is looking to save money when possible. Belcher said that since the start of the school year, the district has saved about $250,000 by not replacing employees who retired or resigned. The district has also reined in travel and other expenses throughout the school year.

“It will be business as usual, but should opportunities become available, we will take the budget-saving opportunities,” Belcher said.

Mees said the district will likely have to use its savings to take care of whatever expenses are necessary. The district usually sets aside 15 percent to 18 percent of its operating expenses in savings.

The district doesn't depend on as much state funding for its total as other school districts, so it won't be hit as hard, Ghan said. The district receives about 32 percent of its total funding from the state.

To help school districts, Ghan said the school boards' association is producing a video webcast in March to facilitate a discussion so board members have the opportunity to share information with other districts across the state.

Despite the steps being taken by the association to address this issue, the lack of midyear funding is not expected to effect Columbia Public Schools significantly.

“Out of the $160 million budget we have, this shortfall represents about 0.4 percent,” Belcher said. “It’s not a huge issue.”

However, Belcher acknowledged that this effects next year’s budget, which he is concerned could suffer from the same budget shortfall experienced this year if the state’s revenue doesn’t rebound as expected.

The district is facing other funding issues, such as federal stimulus money scheduled to run out in 2011, an expectation of permanent reduction in state funding in the future and Boone County’s tax base — which also helps fund the district — increasing less than expected.

For this school year, Belcher said the district could make it through.

“We think we can ride this out, but we will continue to be aggressive in putting our expenses and revenue in alignment.”

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PrisonsBeforeSchools February 25, 2010 | 1:54 p.m.
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