Union R-XI officials say the district is making do with the reality of a state budget that will continue to withhold transportation funds to school districts in the state.
Last year, public schools originally were budgeted to receive $105 million in state transportation aid for the 2018 fiscal year. However, Gov. Eric Greitens cut that amount to $90 million when he signed the budget last summer.
Last week the governor, in his 2019 budget plan, announced that the state would provide $92 million in school transportation aid, continuing most of the current cuts.
Superintedent Dr. Steve Weinhold and Assistant Superintendent Mike Mabe said Monday that the cuts have pushed the school district to stretch its dollars in different areas, including busing students.
“Fuel cost, insurance, buses themselves; everything keeps going up but the financing keeps going down from the state,” Weinhold said.” It’s a step in the wrong direction and none of us like it but we’ll continue to provide a first-rate transportation fleet for students.”
Weinhold said when there are cuts to funding for things like transportation, the district dips into other areas of the operational budget to make ends meet. He said this can lead to more than one area suffering.
“When we have to take a bigger chunk out for transportation, we have to tighten up or do away with something on the other side of operations,” Weinhold said. “We’re hoping to reduce our expenses. We’re trying to find all the cost-cutting measures while still providing top-notch transportation.”
The district is currently awaiting results from a transportation audit performed by Transpar that will highlight areas where the school district could be more efficient, save money and create a safer form of transportation for its students.
Mabe said he hopes to deliver the findings from that audit at the February meeting of the school board. He said the audit should improve the way the district gets students to school in almost every way.
“Last year we had this news that there were going to be cuts in transportation,” That was a contributing factor to why we did the audit to see how we could stretch that dollar and see what we could do internally so the cuts weren’t so drastic on our budget”
The audit isn’t the only way the district is searching for ways to recover from state reductions. The district also recently began planning the installation of energy-saving lights throughout the school district with the district’s energy savings partner, Control Technology Solutions (CTS).
The lighting is expected to be installed throughout the district through the remainder of the school year and is hoped to slash the school’s energy budget.
The cuts aren’t final, as they must pass through the state Legislature before becoming active in April. In the state Capitol, not all are on board.
Members of the House subcommittee for education appropriations raised concerns last week that Greiten’s budget could hurt the finances of Missouri’s school districts, particularly those that span large geographic areas.
Weinhold, however, said the school district will deal with whatever budget is passed.
“Whatever passes we’ll approach and hopefully the LEDs and audit will help us in this cost-cutting time,” he said.