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Jackson school board approves teacher raises and budget cuts

The Jackson R-2 School Board approved a three percent raise for teachers and staff members, as well as additional cuts for next year’s budget, during the regular school board meeting on May 14.

Superintendent Scott Smith said the raises were vital to recruit new staff members and retain the staff currently in Jackson schools. “We know we currently have individuals regularly turn us down for jobs because of pay, so we cannot continue that trend,” Smith said.

The board approved salary schedules for certified teachers and classified staff members, which reflected the three percent raise for all staff. The district had given three percent raises the previous two years.

Assistant Superintendent Matt Lacy said the three percent raise will allow the district to not fall further behind area school districts. “We’re still not going to catch up with them, but we’ll be in the area of them with a three percent raise,” Lacy said.

The board also approved various additional cuts to next year’s budget, after approving the closure of Millersville Elementary School and Gordonville Elementary School last month. Lacy said around $2 million of cuts were necessary to offset the district losing federal COVID-19 relief funding next year.

“We’re going to lose federal funding,” Lacy said. “It’s going to sunset on Sept. 30 next year, and this year we’re set to receive $2.4 million. In subsequent years, we’re losing over $2 million and we need to find $2 million in the budget just to offset what we’re used to bringing in right now.”

The board approved eliminating 10 certified staff positions and four classified staff positions in the district. Smith said he expects the district will be able to eliminate some additional classified staff positions this summer as people resign.

“The promise that we’ve made for this year is that no individual will be terminated,” Smith said. “Everybody has a job, but we’ve looked at everybody’s certification and we’ve looked at what positions we have open, and we have chosen to not fill certain positions.”

The district is expected to save $462,745 from the eliminated certified staff positions and $62,625 from the eliminated classified staff positions. Teachers and staff members at Millersville and Gordonville had the option to move to other positions in the district that needed to be filled.

Smith said the reduction in positions will increase class sizes next year. He said the district’s goal is to keep lower grades at class sizes at 25 students or lower, but there are several elementary classes currently on the bubble.

One of the teaching positions cut was for the ALERT program at the secondary level. Smith said they have not been able to find someone to teach the ALERT classes at the middle school and junior high, but that ALERT classes will still be offered for gifted students at the elementary schools.

Smith said the ALERT program is most needed at the elementary level to give gifted students support. “At the middle school and junior high, we’re able to start offering other programs,” he said. “We have other enrichment activities that those students can participate in.”

Alarie Ornburn, who has a third-grade student in the ALERT program and has served as a substitute teacher for ALERT classes, and ALERT teacher Staci Beussink spoke in favor of the gifted program. Beussink also shared messages from high school students who had gone through the ALERT program.

“I am aware that many programs and resources are on the table for discussion, but in my household, academics come first always,” Ornburn said. “Extracurriculars are just that, they’re extra. The Alert program is critical to the academic success of the gifted students.”

“The elimination of any gifted service, even temporarily, practically ensures that we won’t attract a certified gifted teacher from their secure position in another district to ours,” Beussink said. “It will certainly deter any talent from our own who wants to pursue a gifted certification. The devastating effects for our students will be long term. Maintaining a strong gifted program has always enhanced Jackson’s overall reputation and standing as a leader in education.”

The board approved a new district calendar, which eliminated five school days. Spring break was moved from March 27-31 to April 14-18. The last day of school was moved up from May 20 to May 16, the same day as high school graduation. Students will no longer have school on March 14 and March 17, and students will now be in attendance on April 21.

The reduced school calendar will save the district $81,398 in transportation costs. Smith said the district would likely save additional money on utility costs in the buildings.

The district’s athletic budget will be reduced by $38,300. Two assistant coaching positions and four sponsor positions were eliminated, the district will no longer fund senior banners, supply budgets were reduced and trips will be limited to 125 miles from the high school.

“Anything beyond that 125 miles, we would no longer be participating in or other funding sources would have to be used to help support those trips,” Smith said.

The district is working with the Jackson Police Department to try to find ways to reduce overtime for student resource officers without affecting student safety. Currently, SROs are paid overtime to be at various events held after school including sporting events and choir concerts.

Smith said the police department has agreed to send road officers to some events to help offset the cost of keeping SROs late for these events. The district expects to save $30,000 by reducing SRO overtime. “The city has been good to work with,” he said. “They know where we’re at.”

The board also approved cutting technology costs by $110,535, professional development by $75,000 and the district’s phone system by $180,000. Lacy said the district will eliminate landline phone lines and will instead run phone calls over the Internet.

The district is expected to end this school year with around $20.5 million in the district’s operations fund and an unrestricted fund balance of 31.8%. The district is estimated to use around $1 million of its reserve balance next year to balance the budget next year and around $6 million during the 2025-2026 school year.

“That would draw your fund balance from a healthy 32% right now, all the way down to 19%,” Lacy told the board, adding that the district’s operations fund would go down to $13.5 million at the end of the 2025-2026 school year.

As part of the district’s strategic plan, the district established a minimum fund balance of 20%. Lacy said this is a “worst-case scenario” and the district would monitor revenues very closely next year. “We are not sure what’s going to happen with revenue,” Lacy said. “There are a lot of unknowns, so we tried to budget very conservatively.”

Lacy mentioned that the district received a $1 million correction payment from the state this year that was unannounced, but that the state could also take money away from the district through a correction. The governor also signed a bill saying that the starting salary for teachers must be $40,000 by the 2025-2026 school year, which would be a 1.2% increase to the 3% raise passed this month.

“I feel like we are in a transition period as a district,” Smith said. “We know we have to make changes and that we can’t wait until next year to start making cuts. It would be irresponsible for us. By doing this, we feel like this will help us get the ship turned right.”

In other action:

• The board approved a $630,937 bid from Premium Mechanical and Automation, Inc. to replace the HVAC system at East Elementary School.

Assistant Superintendent Keenan Kinder said the current system was not designed for southeast Missouri weather, and the district has had issues with the system since the school opened. Kinder said the decision to go with the current system was to cut costs when the building was constructed.

The new system will be a closed-loop system, with the district’s maintenance crew saving the district around $65,000 by doing some of the installation work. Most of the work on the project will take place over winter break next school year.

• The board approved meal prices for the 2024-2025 school year, with student meals increasing by 10 cents. Elementary school lunches will be $3, secondary school lunches will be $3.25, elementary school breakfast meals will be $1.85 and secondary school breakfast meals will be $2.10. Early childhood meals are 10 cents less than elementary meals because their portion sizes are smaller.

Kinder said the student meal prices should be higher according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education formula, with secondary lunches calculated to cost $3.80, but the district is limited to a 10-cent increase per year to minimize the impact on families.

• The board approved a $19,125 bid from Bootheel Fence Co. to install safety fencing around the Jackson High School courtyard, which includes the Trail of Honor between the event center parking lot and the J-wing.

The board had previously approved a $14,087 bid from James Fencing in November, but James Fencing has not responded to district staff about the status of the project. Kinder said the company had done site work around spring break, but then would not return phone calls or voicemails.

The board formally rescinded the purchase order from James Fencing before approving the bid from Bootheel Fence Co. The project will be partially funded by a donation from the Jackson Community Foundation.

• The board approved increases to athletic gate fees and the creation of an athletic activity fee for students participating in athletic programs at the high school and junior high school.

Athletic gate fees were increased from $4 to $5 for adults and from $2 to $3 for students and senior citizens this upcoming school year. Athletic Director John Martin said the gate fee is still in line with area schools, with some schools currently charging $5 for all visitors.

An activity fee will be implemented at the high school and junior high school for any student participating in athletics. The cost will be $50 for high school students and $35 for junior high students. The fee will be one time per year and will be the same no matter how many sports a student participates in. Students who qualify for free or reduced lunches will have the fee waived.

• The board approved ending a cooperative agreement with Immaculate Conception Catholic School and St. Paul Lutheran School allowing their students to participate in some junior high sports at Jackson Junior High School.

Martin said the agreement was no longer necessary for those students with Saxony Lutheran High School starting a football program next year. The program included football, track and field, cross country and wrestling.

The board voted to continue the cooperative agreement with Nell Holcomb School since it is a public school and those students have the option to go to Jackson High School.

• The board approved increases in the Little Indians tuition-based early childhood program and After School Kids’ Club.

The Little Indians program, which includes around 100 preschool students who pay tuition, increased by $20 for the morning and afternoon sessions and an additional $20 for extended day. The increase would add approximately $36,000 in revenue for the district.

The After School Kids’ Club currently costs $6 a day and will increase to $7 a day next year. The cost for the program will increase $16 per month for September through May. Around 500 to 600 students participate in this program every month. The district is estimated to add an additional $80,000 in revenue through the increase.

• The board approved an audit proposal from Beussink, Hey, Roe and Stroder, L.L.C. The company was the only bid for the audit and has worked with the district the past four years.

• The board approved bids for various food service products for the upcoming school year. Prairie Farms won the bid for milk, Gold Star Foods won the bid for grocery items and Graves Food won the bid for bread products and disposable items.

• Members of the robotics teams at the middle school, junior high and high school were recognized for their work this season. All three teams won awards at regional competitions and competed at state this year.

The teams at Jackson Middle School and Jackson Junior High School are extracurricular clubs, while robotics is taught as a class at Jackson High School. A robotics class will be added at the junior high next year.

• Science teachers from Jackson Junior High School presented to the board their recent water rocket project for seventh graders.

Students designed and created water-propelled rockets to help them learn about Newton’s three laws of motion. The students were able to test their rockets outside to see whose rocket would fly the highest.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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