Dr. Lori VanLeer

The Washington School District is looking to cut $2 million in expenses, mainly through attrition, technology changes and deferred maintenance, as it addresses revenue shortfalls in state aid and assessed valuation.

The budget was the focus of a special school board meeting Monday night.

“It was an opportunity to take a very critical look at all of the financials and data and consider all options as our revenue streams continue to drop,” Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer told The Missourian.

The district is projecting a loss of $650,000 to $700,000 in state aid, primarily to declining enrollment, as well as assessed valuation to be flat in Franklin County. That combination means budget-trimming, VanLeer said.

“I already feel we are pretty lean and mean, but we will have to dig deeper,” she said.

“This is all still very preliminary and the numbers will change as we get more accurate information,” VanLeer said. “But we have to start planning now and putting in place measures to address these shortfalls.”

Already, the district has made cuts in purchased services and supplies, as well as adjustments in salaries and benefits, to help balance the current budget after learning this past summer its assessed valuation had taken an almost $2 million hit.

Staffing

“Staffing will take the biggest hit, but we are trying to do it through attrition,” VanLeer said.

As employees retire or leave, every position will be analyzed and potentially not replaced, she said. Internal transfers or shifts in responsibilities will have to be considered instead.

Currently, the district will not replace one administrative position and other teaching and support staff positions will likely go unfilled.

Class sizes may increase, VanLeer said, but the district will work hard to stay within the state guidelines for class size.

At this point the district is not eliminating any specific programs, she said, but the 1:1 (one student/one device) technology initiative will have to be modified.

“We don’t want to abandon our technology plan,” VanLeer stressed, “but we will need to reduce costs with it.”

Modifications may mean younger graders sharing laptop carts, rather than each student having their own device to use in the classroom; some grades utilizing a different, less expensive device; and possibly buying used devices that are currently being leased by the district.

The district also will cut its curriculum and textbook budgets for next year and no out travel will be allowed for professional development.

No-Tax Increase Bond Issue

Also on the table is a no-tax increase bond issue to move lease certificates principal and interest payments to general obligation bonds.

“Basically this is moving the lease payments from one fund to another so we could levy fewer pennies in the capital projects fund, which frees up money to be used in operations,” VanLeer said. “This could be critical in preventing future cuts.”

This option would require voter approval.

VanLeer said the board discussed placing the issue on the August or November ballot, but a final decision has not been made yet.

“Monday night was really our first conversation on this, but it’s something we really have to consider,” she said. “It also could make all of the difference with what we do in terms of Phase 2 cuts.”

VanLeer said the board will develop a second round of cuts to have a plan in place if revenues continue to drop.

“We have to put a list together and those cuts would most definitely impact students,” she said. “It’s a very complicated situation with a drop in enrollment and assessed valuation not increasing.”

‘Roller Coaster’

VanLeer describes the district’s financial situation as a “roller coaster.”

The district is keeping a close eye on assessed valuation projections and plans to meet with the Franklin County assessor and other area superintendents. School officials want to be informed of any new construction projects that might happen which would benefit the district.

The majority of the drop from property taxes this year was due to Ameren completing a construction project. During construction, railroads and utilities taxes are assessed locally, VanLeer explained, but once completed it shifts to state assessed.

“I am still trying to get some clarification on when these shifts occur,” she said. “If there’s any good news, it’s that Ameren does have some projects planned so that would help our situation.”

However, she said money realized from new construction will need to be banked or only utilized for one-time expenses based on what happened this year. “We can no longer assume that what we see shifted from locally assessed to state assessed will be offset by growth in other areas,” she said.

Board Input

VanLeer said finances will be discussed at every school board meeting and another board workshop may be planned. Additionally, the board’s finance committee will continue to meet regularly.

Monday’s workshop was very informative, she said, and a representative of the district’s bond counsel was there to answer questions.

“The board asked a lot of great questions,” VanLeer said. “We have several on the board who work with finances so that’s very helpful and a few who were on the board back in 2009 and 2010 when major cuts were made.”