Independence School District budget for next year to be tight

It might be a lean budget, but Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson said at least there will not be a “reduction in the work force” – meaning layoffs.

“We can withstand these pitfalls because we have the fund balances to do so,” he said at a special meeting Monday at which the Independence Board of Education approved the 2009-10 budget. “But we cannot continue to do so. We must tighten our belts.”

By Missouri statute, a school district’s preliminary budget must be approved by June 30 each year. Though many area school districts approved budgets earlier in the month, the board waited until right before the deadline in hopes of receiving assessed valuation numbers from Jackson County. However, thus far, the district has only received “very early estimations,” given in February, for residential property. No information has been received regarding commercial or personal property in the county. The county must provide this information to public entities by July 1.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Hinson said of the deadline. “But that is what we are required to do.”

With revenues estimated at $165.66 million and expenditures estimated at $168.85 million, the Independence district will spend slightly more than it makes next year – a deficit of just more than $3 million. This will come from the district’s reserve fund.

“There is no fluff in this budget. It is really, really tight,” Hinson said. “But we have protected employees, and we have protected the students during this process.”

Hinson said he is thankful that no major cuts to programming or staff had to be made. However, almost 20 positions, vacant due to attrition, will not be filled for the coming year. There was no increase to the base teacher’s salary for the coming year, although teachers will still be able to move on the salary schedule based on years of service and graduate hours completed.

Individual building budgets will remain the same.

“I wasn’t looking forward to coming on the board because I was afraid we would have to start slashing things,” said Board member Matt Mallinson. “But because of those who have worked hard maintaining the system, we do not have to do that this year.”

Hinson attributes the decreasing revenue stream to several factors including declining assessed valuation and Proposition C funds and the economy. Proposition C funds are those which public school districts receive from the state’s sales tax.

He said because of the tight budget, there has been no contingency built in for additional teachers or other expenditures.

“We simply don’t know some of the information (from the county), which has made this process difficult,” he said. “We don’t know what will take place with the economy, and we don’t know what will happen with Proposition C.  So what we have is a very, very lean budget.”