School officials wary of funds withholding threat

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Conservative budgets advancing to balance possibility of cuts

Local school superintendents offered "wait and see" sentiments about Gov. Jay Nixon's announcement that he plans to withhold $1.1 billion in state spending in light of bills passed by the Missouri General Assembly.

Richard Asbill, superintendent of the Cassville R-4 School District, said any time there are such withholdings, it has a direct impact on schools and how they approach funding.

"Any time money is withheld in the short term or long term, it means reduced funding," he said. "At the end of April and first of May, we were at 97-98 percent of the proration funding, and by June, we were at 95 percent, and the funding formula remains underfunded, so we're already losing money."

Brad Hanson, Monett R-1 superintendent, saw the announcement in terms of political maneuvering between the governor and the legislature in light of several additional tax-cut bills passed late in the session.

"The governor probably anticipates a potential override," Hanson said. "It's posturing at this point, with the governor saying, 'If you override my vetoes, then I'll withhold the money.' It's similar to where we were last summer."

If funds end up withheld, Hanson foresees a significant impact to Monett schools.

"If we stay at the same proration factor [money paid per student] and with us down about 40-50 ADA [average daily attendance], we could possibly see about $250,000 less in funds to our general fund and teachers' fund," Hanson said.

When the Monett School Board meets on Monday, Hanson still plans to present the budget he prepared.

"If the withholding comes to be, we will have to dig into our reserves a little more," Hanson said. "It's certainly not a good thing. If we see the withholding, we'll adjust our budget at midyear.

"We've got to be prepared for it. If it does happen, we'll all be short 
some money."

Asbill said Cassville works with a budget of about $16 million, with about $6 million coming from the state.

"We are ending the fiscal year at 93 percent of the proration factor, and now, there will be no added funding," he said. "We are just now reevaluating budget plans, and we have to look at $300,000 to $500,000 in potential spending reductions based on the information we have now."

Purdy Superintendent Steven Chancellor said the governor's action compounds the mixed message sent by the state, especially in light of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education boosting payments based on the Foundation Formula up to 98 percent. Taking a more conservative approach, Chancellor planned on 96 percent disbursements through the formula.

"Until they get to their session in September, we're kind of in a holding pattern right now," Chancellor said. "My gut tells me we're in the middle of some political posturing. I don't feel people inherently hate schools, so I think they will free up the money."

State officials previously signaled the likelihood of some disruption in state funding. Chancellor said the shortfall in gambling revenue will likely have the most impact, since lawmakers saw that as the source for boosting school aid.

"I haven't put pen to paper on this one yet," Chancellor said. "I think the effect will be minimal. We've prepared a conservative budget so it may not hurt us at all. We usually do a budget amendment in October or November. Rather than be fortune-tellers, we're going to move forward with the budget we're already preparing.

"We have a history of seeing this. They get the lobbying agents and the unions all fired up. At the end of the day, it's not half as bad as they were claiming. We're going to concentrate on Purdy now and what we have direct control over."

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