“We need to make cuts or increase revenue to stay in balance,” said USD 398 Superintendent Rex Watson said.
Whatever could be cut from the budget has been, he told some 30 people attending the meeting held at the Peabody Baptist Church, and no more significant cuts can be made.
Substantiating that claim, Watson outlined step by step the past, present and future concerns facing the district.
“A question asked a lot is how much money have recent budget cuts cost the school district,” he said.
To answer the question, he said there have been five budget cuts since last year.
In July 2008, the base state aid per pupil was set at $4,492 by the Kansas Legislature.
“We never got it,” he said.
From July 2008, the legislature continued to cut the amount promised to school districts on the per pupil amount starting with $4,492, then down to $4,433 to $4,400 in January 2009 to $4,280 in May 2009 and on July 15, 2009, the governor cut the base aid per pupil to $4,218.
Gov. Mark Parkinson, Watson said, then cut the base aid one more time to $4,012 on Nov. 15, 2009.
With the state legislature looking at a $500,000 deficit and balancing its budget, Watson and other superintendents don’t believe the base state aid is going to go up anytime soon.
Deciphering how much school districts have lost with the five cuts in less than a year depends on how far back to go.
What happened this year?
In the 2009-10 budget for Peabody-Burns, he said, a total of 711.6 full-time equivalency students were counted.
“This is not a walk-through-the-door head count,” he said.
In total, the district has about 350 students, but weighted enrollmentraises the FTE.
Using the July 15, 2009, amount per pupil of $4,218, the district set its budget about $3,001,500 (711.6 FTE x $4,218). But, the actual amount school districts across the state received per pupil was $216 less or a shortfall of $146,589.
“It is disheartening to see what our school would look like if we had received the money promised,” he said.
The problem this year is that Peabody-Burns is going to spend $146,589 more than it takes in.
“We are OK this year, but we can’t do that very long,” he said.
Unlike a home or business, school districts use the majority of their budgets to pay teacher salaries, Watson said.
“Each year, teachers are given a one-year contract, and we cannot reduce teachers mid-year,” Watson said.
As for cuts, the board of education has cut its bus routes from seven to four, cut food service personnel, janitors, turned the thermostats down, cut field trips mid-year and made other cuts to save even a little.
“We have children riding the bus for one hour,” he said, “and that’s way too long for this area. We cannot reduce any more food service people and still provide breakfast and lunch.”
While Peabody’s district is in better shape than some of its neighboring districts, Watson said he credits that to the frugalness of boards 20 to 30 years ago.
Watson wanted those attending the meeting to understand that if the district remains “status quo” next year with a little more than $3 million budget, the district finances could stay balanced.
But, the board would like to keep teachers on the salary schedule, which would mean $10,000 more is needed in next year’s budget. In addition, if teachers are given an increase, then secretaries, food service personnel and other classified staff should also receive a small raise, which would add another $3,900.
Other added expenditures include hiring a counselor at $50,000 and with the Marion County Special Education Service Center in a $1 million deficit, the five districts could be looking at another increase of $70,000 to $90,000.
Even though Peabody’s district has asked to be removed from the cooperative, no decision has been made yet.
Based on those new expenditures, Watson said his board is looking at possibly increasing the local option budget and adding 4 mills for the capital outlay fund.
Watson noted that this year’s budget is the same as it was 10 years ago. In the 1998-99 school year, Peabody’s general fund was about $2.759 million. In 1999-2000, it was $2.847 million and steadily increased to its highest level of about $3.247 million in 2007-08, before falling to where it is today.
What can be done?
Watson urges taxpayers to write personal letters to legislators. These letters can come from concerned citizens, parents, voters and residents.
“The letters should be handwritten or typed,” he said. “No form letters.”
“The easy cuts are over,” Watson said. “Any future cuts will hurt children.”