Schools wary of funding cuts for transportation

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

State Rep. lays out concerns about more budget cuts

Following former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's decision to cut $59 million from the state budget in response to bills which were vetoed, of which $24.4 million will be withheld from public education and $16.5 million from school transportation, Missouri schools will have some decisions to make in the new year concerning their budgets.

"The governor had warned the legislature [of the impending cuts]," said Richard Asbill, superintendent for the Cassville school district.

Transportation is of particular concern for the Cassville district with the distance it covers, with routes in several rural areas, which has 25 buses in its fleet and runs 19 daily routes.

"That's really important for Cassville, because we have one of the largest bus routes in the state, so we definitely need that [funding]," Asbill said.

No jobs are being cut or salaries adjusted in response to the cuts.

"Schools contract with our certified staff, and those contracts are made in June for the upcoming year," Asbill said. "Thus, when the legislature or Governor makes budget withholdings or formula adjustments in the year, schools have to find other ways and budget adjustments to make before salaries."

Asbill said administration will be looking at ways to make cuts to transportation in the new year.

"Any withholding that occurs in the current budget means we adjust to what the cut will be, although when withholdings occur is really very difficult to accommodate, as the fiscal year has already started and most financial obligations have already been made, so you just have to adjust as best you can," Asbill said. "For transportation, we will maintain all of our approved routes. What we will do is evaluate routes, stops and distance options, then we will evaluate non-essential trips and look at ways to address costs.

"Our district currently charges a $20 activity trip fee for all extra-curricular bus trips. The district still pays for the fuel but all programs incur the activity trip fee. This fee may have to be evaluated as these transportation budget reductions are realized."

Asbill is concerned that the funding situation resulting from Nixon's cuts this year from transportation, schools and universities, may become worse after January.

"As the new Governor takes office, there is potential for additional budget issues," he said. "In January, the legislature will begin the next budget process. If they believe that revenues will not make projections, they will likely not approve a budget with the needed funds, this will mean school have to adjust, reduce, cut or plan for restrictions that will not be funded. The funding formula does not currently have the needed funds to 100 percent fully fund school districts in Missouri."

Asbill said a lawsuit against Volkswagen may help the school compensate somewhat for lost funding.

"The Volkswagen Company was fined by the government for manipulating emissions on its automobiles, so all the states are getting money [from that] which is in the billions," he said.

According to an article reported in the St. Louis Dispatch this month, state revenues fell short of expectations in November, triggering a new wave of concerns about more cuts.

Nixon's office reported that current year-to-date tax collections increased by only 2.6 percent over the last year, which is slower than the 5.5 percent growth rate lawmakers and Nixon had hoped for when they drafted the state's $27 billion spending plan last spring.

Nixon has already cut approximately $150 million to adjust to projected revenue shortfalls, and he could withhold more spending before leaving office, or leave the issue up to Greitens to handle when he takes office Jan. 9.

A representative for Greitens said in November that more cuts were likely, but how the situation would be handled was tentative.

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said he plans to work with Greitens to address the budget issues, as some on the House budget committee believe another $200 million more should be cut from the spending plan -- and Fitzpatrick thinks Nixon should be the one to do it.

"If he wants to leave this state in a better spot than the way he found it, he needs to make restrictions before he leaves office," said Fitzpatrick.

During his campaign, Greitens said he wanted to cut spending and shrink government, however, if Nixon takes no action before leaving office, those promises may be hard-kept once he assumes office and inherits the budget crisis, including about 100,000 new Medicaid enrollments in response to Obamacare, which have placed a huge strain on the budget and are expected to continue to rise.

A rough initiation to his first position in a publicly-held office, Greitens may be faced with cutting $200 to $300 million from the budget, which could bring long-lasting consequences to education, economic development and public safety.

"If things keep going the way they are, the day after Gov. Greitens is sworn in, he'll have to sit down and make some incredibly difficult decisions about where to restrict spending," said Fitzpatrick, who will be the next chairman of the House budget committee. "There's not going to be anything more pressing he'll have to deal with on his first day.

"I've told everybody who's come to talk to me about the budget this year that they shouldn't expect anything good to happen. 'Play defense' is kind of what I've told anybody whose job relies on a state appropriation because it's going to be a tough year."

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