Archive for Thursday, January 22, 2009

Public invited to share priorities for district budget

January 22, 2009

Optimistic reports that education would be “held harmless” with state budget cuts forced by the recession evaporated last week.

Although Gov. Kathleen Sebelius had stated that was a goal as she sought to trim the current 2009 fiscal year budget that runs from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009, education took a hit in the spending proposal she delivered to the Legislature last week. The governor’s budget didn’t provided added funding for general student and at-risk student enrollment growth. Consequently, state aid per pupil was slashed $22 for the current fiscal year and a $66 per pupil cut for 2009-2010.

In De Soto USD 232, that translated to a $250,000 cut in the budget the board of education approved in August and a projected $1.6 million cut for the 2009-2010 budget, which will equal about half the increase in state aid the district received the past five years.

The cut to the current annual budget was proposed as the district is about halfway through its annual budget cycle, giving it less time to make adjustments to address the shortfall.

Still, Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said it was understood the nation and the state were in the midst of an economic crisis and that cuts to education were inevitable. But she said it was hoped legislators would understand the value of education to economic development and spare K-12 education the worst of the budget ax.

“We prepare the workers for the future, and use a lot of vendors who help stimulate the economy,” she said.

The district could adsorb the governor’s proposal with adjustments to district facilities and utilities, Zoellner said. But she said legislators were also making proposals that would have “devastating” consequences K-12 education.

If those more severe cuts were approved, the district would have to take more drastic action, Zoellner said.

“With 70 to 80 percent of our budget in salaries and benefits, we would have to evaluate that,” she said.

As for the 2009-2010 budget, the district probably wouldn’t know what it was getting from the state until April, Zoellner said. However, the district will start planning in the coming week how to deal with the budget cuts.

Zoellner received the board’s permission in December to form a committee of district patrons to review what could be postponed or curtailed to protect the quality of programs improved in the past five years. At that time, Zoellner said

As that effort is about to get underway, the superintendent will lead a community meeting to learn what district patrons should be protected as priorities. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Mill Creek Middle School. Zoellner will also answers questions from district patrons after the 8:30 a.m. service at the De Soto United Methodist Church, which she attends, and has made the same offer to The Rev. Richard Copeland of the De Soto Baptist Church.

In December when Zoellner requested the board’s approval to form the 2009-2010 community committee, she said her goal was to protect positions and salaries. That was still the hope, Zoellner said Tuesday, but its realization will depend on what the Legislature does.

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