The Jackson R-2 School District’s financial situation after the failure of Propositions I and N during the April municipal election was discussed during the school board’s regular May meeting earlier this month.
“The voters have spoken and it wasn’t in support, but we still have to move forward,” Superintendent Scott Smith said. “We still have to make sure we focus on academics; we have to take care of our staff and there are things that we have to do as a district.”
The district is expected to present a budget for the upcoming school year to the board during its June meeting. The budget is expected to include several cuts, but it will include a three percent salary increase for all staff members in the district.
“We know that for Fiscal Year 2024, we can absorb a raise of three percent,” Assistant Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer Matt Lacy said. “The price tag on a three percent raise is a little over a million dollars when you factor in salary and benefits.”
Lacy said the raise will be below the current inflation rate of five percent, but it is the most the district feels it can give while still being responsible and having a balanced budget.
“I have visited other district and most that I’ve visited are giving substantially more than this,” Smith said. “At this point, we feel like we can do it for Fiscal Year 2024 knowing that Fiscal Year 2025 will have to have additional revenue to cover it.”
Smith presented $554,368 in cuts already expected in next year’s budget, including building supplies, eliminating five staff member positions where employees retired or left the district, eliminating activity shuttles and adjusting the opening time of Orchard Drive Elementary School.
“Last year, we had to adjust the start time at Orchard Elementary to 9 a.m. because of a bus driver shortage,” Smith said. “We haven’t increased enough bus drivers to make a change.”
Smith said Orchard would still have a late start at 8:30 a.m. but would no longer provide free childcare for families who dropped off their students early at the school. Instead of opening the school at 7 a.m. and paying staff to provide childcare until school begins, doors will open at 7:30 a.m. next school year and no childcare will be provided before classes begin.
Board Member Christine Warren asked what supplies will be cut in the budget and if teachers would have to pay for supplies moving forward. Lacy said 10% of supply budgets will be cut across the board, but most buildings never spent enough on supplies to be affected by the lowered budget. Smith added that some building equipment throughout the district, such as treadmills, would not be replaced next school year.
Smith explained that the eliminated activity shuttles would mean students would need to get a ride to practices not held at their school, such as the high school’s soccer and swimming teams.
In addition, the district plans to sell 84 acres of farmland the district previously bought for a future school building.
No budget cuts were approved by the board during the meeting, but the cuts are expected to be in the budget presented to the board next month.
The district also expects to make a transfer of $2.6 million from its general incidental fund to its capital improvement fund during this year’s budget. Lacy said this transfer is necessary because the district didn’t commit any tax revenue to capital improvement projects during this school year due to a potential negative legal judgment.
“We wanted to make sure if that went negatively for us, we were able to pay that bill,” Lacy said. “But since that didn’t happen, we are able to take that money and put it back into capital improvements and end the year with a positive balance.”
Lacy added that this transfer will allow the district to fund improvements to the West Lane Elementary School roof approved in April and to buy more school buses, which was discussed later in the meeting.
“Next year, we are still really solid,” Lacy said. “As we look ahead, we have a number of challenges in Fiscal Year 2025. It’s not my goal to try to exaggerate or to scare anybody, but we want to be open and honest with people about where we are fiscally.”
Lacy said that after next year, the district’s financial situation is expected to worsen due to COVID-19 relief funds sunsetting, inflation concerns and property tax values expected to go down.
“We have benefited this year from higher than average personal property tax rates, but this trend may self-correct,” Lacy said. “We are hearing from other districts and financial advisors across the state to be aware that those inflated values may drop.”
Smith said the district is projecting the total revenue from personal property taxes and real estate property taxes to be flat this coming school year.
Lacy said an increase to the tax levy is still needed, and if additional revenue is not secured for the 2025-2026 school year, substantial cuts will be recommended. “A lot could change between then and now, but Fiscal Year 2025 could be a dangerous time for us and we want to plan accordingly and be cautious,” he said.
If voters passed a tax increase in April 2024, the district will not receive an increase in revenue until December 2024. “That fall would have very thin margins where we would have to look at doing some tax anticipation notes, where we would have to borrow money to pay the bills for the district,” Smith said.
Smith said the district plans to go back to the community and try to learn more about why the propositions failed. He presented a proposal from Opinion Research Specialists to survey voters and try to reach those who voted against the propositions to see what they would support.
Smith said he spoke with other districts that have used the survey team after having propositions failed and later passed. All recommended the service and some now used them for non-election surveys.
The board tabled the proposal due to the cost of the survey, which was quoted to be $12,500 to survey voters by mail and online, $3,000 to survey parents online and $3,000 to survey staff members.
The board asked Smith to present more information during a future meeting, but to move forward with surveying parents and staff members internally without using the outside group.
In other action
• The board approved the purchase of a used 50-passenger special education bus for $81,370. The used bus, which is a 2020 model, has an estimated accrued mileage of 18,000-22,000 miles.
“In the summer of 2019, we acquired 10 brand new 2020 buses as part of a lease purchase. Of those buses, two of them this year were totaled out,” Kinder said. One of the accidents was not the fault of district staff, but the other was.
The bus that was totaled at the fault of district staff was a special education bus that will be replaced by this purchase. Kinder said a new special education bus would have cost $157,000 and wouldn’t be delivered for another year.
The district also went out to bid on an additional five school buses. “We need to get three regular education buses and two more special education buses,” Kinder said. “If we buy five new buses next year and five more buses every following year, it will be at least 14 years before these new buses will be replaced.”
Kinder said the board would receive a recommendation to buy these five additional buses next month. He said the district will also look for used buses for these five additional purchases.
• The district received a perfect score on its continuous improvement plan by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“We have been working on our strategic planning process for the past year-plus,” Smith said. “A good job to all the team members and everything they got done. I think it shows that we are trying to look at all aspects of the district to help us move forward.
• The board approved an evaluation of the Title I Reading program, which currently serves kindergarten through fourth grade students at Orchard Drive Elementary School and South Elementary School, as well as around 90 children in the district’s preschool program at East Elementary School.
Orchard and South Elementary qualified for the school-wide reading program because at least 40% of the students receive free or reduced lunch. The program provides additional reading instructors in addition to reading instruction provided in the classroom.
• Staff members from Orchard Elementary presented about their Walk to Intervention program, which has been used for the past year and a quarter. First grade students across all classrooms are put into around seven structured literacy groups that are then spread out among the first grade and reading teachers to allow all students to receive the specific reading interventions they need.
This system, where the students are shared among the grade level, has allowed teachers to be more efficient and better meet the needs of various student groups. First grade students at Orchard made the most growth in reading across the district this year, and the kindergarten team at Orchard has now adopted the program.
• The board approve bids for various food service products for the upcoming school year. Prairie Farms won the bid for milk, and Gold Star/Graves Food won the bid for bread products and disposable items.
• The board approved selling surplus iPads that will be replaced this upcoming school year through a grant. Around 900 iPads will be sold by the district. The iPads being sold are four years old and would be considered in “fair” condition.
• Recent Jackson graduate Eva Carrasquillo was awarded the $1,000 John T. Belcher Memorial Scholarship from the Missouri School Board’s Association. Carrasquillo was one of 250 applicants for MSBA’s scholarships this year, and only one scholarship was given for each of the 17 MSBA regions.
Photo by Jay Forness
Eva Carrasquillo, center, was awarded the John T. Belcher Memorial Scholarship from the Missouri School Board’s Association during the Jackson R-2 School Board’s May meeting. She is shown with the school board’s MSBA Delegate Kristen Lewis and Board President Brian Thompson.