As hundreds of local students return to classrooms this week, area school districts are facing harsh state funding cuts. The Cassville R-4 School District has seen around a $600,000 decrease in funding for the 2010-11 school year.
Last spring, school districts across Missouri were notified that they would see a reduction in basic school formula funding. Districts ended the 2009-10 school year with a 98 percent proration of basic formula funding.
"In July, the governor announced that there would be more withholdings," said Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent. "This year, we are looking at a 96 percent proration for basic formula funding.
"The state is still looking at potential funding shortfalls," said Asbill. "There is a potential for basic formula funding proration to drop to 94 percent this year."
Although a 6 percent reduction in funding may not seem like a lot, the change will decrease the Cassville School District's state funding by around $430,000.
"Those are funds that have to be picked up locally," said Asbill. "We have committed to salaries and programs for students. In order to accommodate the decrease in funding, we will need to look at ways to reduce expenses in other areas."
In addition to receiving less basic formula funding, area school districts are seeing major cuts in transportation funding. Last year, the state provided a 70 percent reimbursement on eligible miles, which provided the Cassville School District with $283,000.
"This year, we will receive 23 percent reimbursement on eligible miles, which is a $125,000 to $150,000 decrease in funding," said Asbill. "This is very important because of the large number of miles our buses travel everyday to provide students with transportation to and from school."
Cassville offers 19 bus routes, which travel over 1,500 miles daily to provide transportation to students in the 300-square-mile school district. The district also incurs transportation expenses for school field trips, extracurricular activities and sports activities.
Missouri requires school districts to provide transportation for students who live more than three and a half miles from the school campus. This year, some Missouri school districts, like the Nixa School District, have opted to provided transportation services to fewer students.
"We don't have that luxury in Barry County," said Asbill. "We are a rural based district, and we believe that parents rely on these transportation services.
"The Cassville School Board is committed to making transportation as efficient as possible while still providing services," said Asbill. "This year, we will be GPS mapping our stops in order to look at opportunities to shorten or change routes to make them more efficient. We don't want the students to be on the buses a long time, but we will be making decisions to help decrease mileage and fuel costs."
Area Parents As Teachers (PAT) programs have also seen major funding cuts over the last year. Several local school districts have already discontinued the early child education program.
The Cassville School District will continue to offer the PAT program with a reduction in services and staff. The district's part-time early child education instructor has been reassigned to a position in the Cassville Primary School for the 2010-11 school year.
"We were previously receiving around $40,000 each year for the PAT program," said Asbill. "With the reductions in funding at the state level, we will only receive around $20,000 for the program this year."
With this reduction in funding in mind, the Cassville School District will continue to provide screenings and parent visits but the PAT instructor will also support the district's preschool program in the Cassville Primary School.
Last week, Congress passed a $26 billion jobs bill that has the potential to save thousands of teaching jobs across the country. It has been estimated that Missouri will receive $189 million from the emergency funding bill for education over the next year.
"This emergency funding will help the state, which will in turn benefit the school districts," said Asbill. "Right now, Missouri is looking at a large funding shortfall. This emergency funding would provide assistance to stabilize the shortfall over the short and long-term, which could lessen the blow we feel next year.
"A challenged economy impacts local citizens in two ways," said Asbill. "First, citizens struggle in the local economy, then those funding challenges make it to the government the next year due to the decrease in tax revenues. The 2011-12 school year has the potential to be the most devastating to local school districts."
Over the next year, as state legislators work to balance Missouri's budget, area school districts will be making similar decisions based on the funding cuts that are made at the state level, said Asbill.
"It is important for parents to know they need to be active in discussions regarding funding for next year," said Asbill. "They need to voice their opinions on how important their schools are."
Asbill would like to remind parents and school district patrons that funding cuts do not impact all districts in the same way.
"When you hear information about budget cuts don't react to that information immediately because it may or may not impact your district in that way," said Asbill. "Come by or pick up the phone and call and ask how your district is impacted.
"We hope that Cassville R-4 patrons will look at the fact that this is a very good school district," said Asbill. "It has always had a good, sound fiscal accountability, which will limit the impacts of cuts so students don't see interruptions in services. The Cassville School Board is being very conservative in limiting and reducing spending this year in order to lessen the blow in the coming year."