When I began as the Prairie City School District No. 4 superintendent/principal on July 1, 2001, I was told that the school district "was in good shape, financially." Also the 2001-02 budget had been duly approved by the budget committee and adopted by the school board.
During the summer of 2001, the district had a certified teacher resign. Additionally, my search for a full-time certified music teacher and a foreign language teacher both came up empty. We filled the music position with an aide and made elected foreign language opportunities via satellite. The net reductions in budget expenses would have been $100,000, approximately, as we did not fill the vacant teaching position, either.
The audit for 2000-01 was completed in December 2001. It showed a general fund balance of $308,391. With this information and the knowledge that the 2001-02 budget contained $286,490 in contingency and unappropriated, it seemed prudent to allow for a beginning cash balance of $539,322. This is the amount that was needed to balance the 2002-03 budget.
As the 2002-03 budget was prepared, approved and adopted, several staff positions were reduced or eliminated: a full-time lead custodian retired and was not replaced; the superintendent reduced to half-time; the English teacher position was funded at two-thirds time, with one-third being covered in-house. The total salary dollars again would be reduced by $100,000, more or less.
In November of 2002, the 2001-02 audit was completed and showed a general fund balance of only $39,147. There was great concern as the 2001-02 budget had obviously seriously over-estimated the revenue, while under-estimating requirements. The net difference of income versus expenses was a negative $162,603. The rest of the $270,144 slide is attributed to $22,077 in debt service and back taxes owed of $84,564.
Coupled with the bleak news concerning the general fund cash reserves, was the loss of $207,000 during our current budget cycle in terms of projected revenue, again versus cuts made in Salem, after the conclusion of the budgeting process.
The District has been on severe budget restrictions since November. Supplies, equipment, travel etc. have all but been eliminated. At this writing, I am anticipating that the District can achieve a zero balance in the general fund on June 30, 2003. This will require transferring some funds from the bus fund, which currently has a balance of $117,278. State school support amounts are still somewhat unpredictable, as Salem continues to wrestle with declining tax collections.
On March 4, 2003, the Board took several steps designed to reduce the 2003-04 budget requirements. Staff will be reduced in physical education, music, computer technology, administration and classroom teacher areas. Cuts made amount to the equivalent of four full-time positions.
Preliminary budget estimates from the state show the District receiving $1,810,531 in total formula revenue for the 2003-04 fiscal year. Further, we are anticipating about $200,000 in non-formula revenue for the same period. The largest non-formula income source is the county excess road fund monies.
My suggestion would be to develop a 2003-04 budget close to $1,900,000. This would allow the district to begin to re-build its cash reserves.
Gene Mills serves as Prairie City School District No. 4 superintendent. School board members read this statement on March 12. At that meeting, Mills announced that he would not be returning to the school district next year.