Letter: What budget crisis?

Posted 11/25/20

To the Editor,

On Wednesday, the Warren County School Board under the direction of the superintendent cut various courses and positions in an attempt to come up with cost saving measures, the …

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Letter: What budget crisis?


To the Editor,

On Wednesday, the Warren County School Board under the direction of the superintendent cut various courses and positions in an attempt to come up with cost saving measures, the most concerning having to do with ag and other tech programs. I do not impugn the good intentions of the board and superintendent — theirs is a difficult job. 

What I do question is the timing and the reasons for the cuts. The annual discretionary funds balance for this school year is projected to fall to 12.84%, 2.16 points below the 15% floor for this school year. The funds in that balance are meant to cover unexpected costs and/or loss of revenue.

That fund balance surplus is commonly called the rainy day fund. The rainy day is here, no doubt, in the form of a shortfall of anticipated revenue. So it’s time to dip into that fund to cover those costs. The Missouri Department of Education (MODESE) will notify a district when their fund balances fall from one year to a next or below 10%. It is meant to be an informative letter, and is not punitive in nature. 

In other words, just falling below the district determined fund balance is not problematic in itself. It is what the district does knowing that the fund balance is decreasing over time. The board is addressing that issue as mandated by Warren County R-III Board Policy DIAA.

What was not said was that the recommended MODESE fund balance floor is 3%.

Most districts have imposed upon themselves anywhere from a 15% to 25% fund balance through district board policies that more than comply with the MODESE mandate. At any given time the board could decide to change the fund balance floor, which would kick the problem down the road, but at the same time it could give the district more time to thoroughly study the issues involved and not drastically cut successful programs. 

In my mind, we are not in as dire of straights as the board, through this very rushed, secretive and less-than-complete review of the situation is trying to convince us. It is in the process of the proposed and accepted cuts wherein lie many problems — the actual cuts notwithstanding.

What was the process? Were all the stakeholders — administration, board, staff, parents, patrons and students — involved? No, and public commentary at the board meeting Wednesday shouldn’t be considered anywhere near adequate.

For if the board had listened to the speakers, it would have not voted for the cuts, but to table them as requested by a number of the speakers. And then they should have determined to get the stakeholders involved in the process. Generally speaking, the more minds looking at these types of very public policy issues, the better the outcome.

What needs to be done, in light of the fact that the supposed budget crisis is not actually as urgent as it is made out to be, is to ask for volunteers to sit on a budget commission, scrutinizing where cuts can be identified as having the least effect on the academic curriculum. 

While the board members and the superintendent bemoaned the lack of revenue with a “woe is me” attitude, I did not hear anything that showed me that they had done the proper research and questioning with due diligence other sources, not only of revenue, but also outside help. That help being to reach out to our elected representatives at the state level and to our representatives and senators at the federal level. Perhaps they did, but none of it was mentioned.

There is a lot of work to be done to solve the declining budget revenue and expense direction. Whether it is a severe enough crisis to do what the board and superintendent did in such a truncated fashion is very questionable, and the action of the board has only increased enmity, ill will and hostility toward the district. 

I suspect that there are other reasons for doing what they have done and it has to do with an attempt to persuade and secure the rural patron vote for a tax levy. It sure seemed that way from what I was hearing. If that is the case, the board and superintendent have spectacularly failed.

The best course of action for the board to take is to rescind that vote, take the time to properly study and review the fiscal situation utilizing the brainpower of the district’s staff, parents, patrons and students. Only then can an equitable solution be found to correcting the budget situation.

Duane Swacker
Retired WHS teacher
Warren County School District, Letter to the editor


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