A silver lining found in budget crisis

By Rod Haxton, editor

There may have been a silver lining in the USD 466 (Scott County) budget crisis when the district found itself facing a $1.1 million shortfall.

The district was forced to make some major budget slashing moves that included staff and salary cuts. While it wasn’t planned that way, it put the school district a year ahead of their counterparts around the state who have since had to adjust to reduced state aid.

Consequently, the state’s block grant funding program for Kansas schools will have minimal impact on the district’s proposed budget for the 2015-16 school year.

“State funding will be pretty comparable to what it was last year,” says Supt. Jamie Rumford.

“Because of what this district went through in early 2014, and the adjustments that were made in last year’s budget, we’re able to weather the state funding situation fairly well,” says Rumford.


While the district is slowly rebuilding some of its cash reserves, state funding - and the uncertainty of that funding - hasn’t allowed the administration to replace staff positions that were cut a year ago or to bring salaries back to where they were in the 2013-14 school year.

In June, the board of education reimbursed all its employees for the two percent salary cuts they accepted as part of the district’s austerity moves. Base salaries for all positions, however, remains at the same level they were two years ago.

Rumford says the board has made a salary offer to the teachers which they will be voting on during in-service days prior to the start of the new school year. The proposed increase won’t bring base salaries back to the 2013-14 level - which would put the offer at less than two percent.

“We’d like to give more to the staff, but we’ve also been warned to prepare for more budget cuts by the state,” Rumford says. “Our hope is that when we have a better idea as to how much money we will have at the end of the budget year, we can write a 13th check to the staff like we did earlier this year.”


Rebuilding Reserves

In order to close the budget gap that the district was facing in the late spring of 2014, the board dipped into its contingency fund (cash reserves) in addition to more than $700,000 in budget cuts. A primary goal by the board during the past year has been to rebuild those reserves which the auditor warned were too low.

After starting the 2014-15 school year with $203,000 in contingency reserves, the district has rebuilt that to $320,000 to start the 2015-16 school year.

Likewise, the capital outlay reserves have increased from $334,000 to $542,000 during that same time frame.

In order to boost the reserves, local taxpayers approved an increase in the capital outlay levy from six mills in 2013-14 to eight mills in 2014-15, where it remains today. The district had $641,000 in capital outlay expenditures during the past year and has budgeted $787,000 for 2015-16.

Those expenses are spread across the district, says Rumford, including roof repairs, improvements at the football complex, technology upgrades, an initiative that will put ipads into the hands of every student in grades 7-12, and more.


Budget Deception

General fund expenditures aren’t what they would appear to be thanks to some sleight-of-hand by the state.

The proposed budget shows general fund expenditures of $6.9 million - an increase of just over $800,000 from last year. Only the district won’t have an extra $800,000 to spend, emphasizes Rumford.

Of that increase, $562,549 is the state’s contribution to KPERS - the retirement program for public employees.

“This year the state is depositing that into our general fund. We’ve been told it will probably be there for about two hours before the state transfers it,” says Rumford.

But he says it allows the state to claim that it boosted general fund money for the district, even if for just a couple of hours.

The district will get another $196,000 in LOB state aid. Last year, USD 466 was supposed to receive $272,000 in LOB aid, but in mid-year the state took back $76,000, leaving Scott County schools with the reduced amount.

Consequently, Rumford said he had been advised by their auditor to expect no LOB state aid this year.

“The $196,000 was a surprise. We’re one of the lucky districts,” says Rumford cautiously. “But we aren’t going to spend this money just yet. We saw what the state did to us last year.”


Virtual Education

An added concern for some districts are proposed changes in state funding for virtual education (on-line classes). The state is proposing to cut state funding for part-time virtual students from $4,045 in 2015-16 to $1,700 in 2016-17.

The only impact this would have on USD 466 is through the Scott City Learning Center, which is funded through the Southwest Plains Regional Service Center in Sublette.

Money that the school district receives for virtual students passes through USD 466 and goes to SWPRSC to pay the salary of its local director, along with rent/utilities for a building that is owned by the district.

“Most of the students in the local virtual program are full-time,” says Rumford, who credits director Melissa Jasnoch with making that happen.

“She’s done a great job of getting students to make a full-time commitment and building up the enrollment significantly from what it was before she took over,” he says.

“Some districts are dropping their involvement in virtual education because of the lack of students. We’re committed to keeping the program here. Any time you can provide a service that will allow more students, and even adults, to get their high school diplomas then we all benefit,” he says.

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