MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon school board is taking steps to place a funding issue on the November ballot. Residents in the school district will vote on a $2.5 million operating levy, the first “new” money requested for the general fund since 1996.
Treasurer Barb Donohue said the district’s five-year financial forecast predicts a $3 million deficit in fiscal year 2013, in spite of vigorous cost containment measures taken over the past few years.
Asked whether the costs associated with the John Freshwater contract termination hearing impacted the board’s decision, school superintendent Steve Short said no.
“We were going to go on the ballot regardless of the hearing,” Short said.
As of July 23, the school district has spent about $734,885 of general fund money on the Freshwater contract termination proceeding. Payments to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office for security at the hearing site came to $7,641. The court recorder fees were $45,747.25 and attorney fees equaled $681,496.20. This does not include payments to hearing referee Lee Shepherd; the district has not yet received a statement from him.
The reasoning behind the levy request, according to Short, is shortfalls in revenues.
“We had a $740,000 decline in revenues in 2008-09, and a $41,227 decline in 2009-10. Delinquent taxes in 2009-10 come to $787,000,” Short said.
There were also some revenues the district expected to receive from the state but did not.
“We had 50 additional students enroll in our system this year. Because of how the state funding works, we should have gotten an additional $260,000 for those students. We did not. If the state had funded kindergarten as it promised, we would have received close to $965,000 for kindergarten. We received less,” Short said.
Revenue losses over the past years add up to $2,553,000.
“We are asking the voters for $2.5 million,” Short said. “We don’t want to ask for more than we believe at this point that we need.”
The district has made roughly $3.7 million in general fund budget cuts within the past couple of years, but it does not make up for a flat or decreasing revenue stream.
In 2008, $805,750 worth of reductions were made including reducing the number of extended days for staff, transferred appropriate expenses to the permanent improvement fund [which is separate from the general fund], reduced summer school offerings, abolished one administrative position and reduced the amount of services it purchased from the Knox County Educational Service Center by $300,000.
During 2009-10, reductions of $1,172,600 were instituted including more items were paid through permanent improvement funds, another $100,000 was cut from the KCESC contract, summer school was again cut back, and teaching positions were cut or replaced at a lower cost. The district also used a $500,000 of stimulus money to pay for things that would have otherwise been a general fund expenditure.
“We’re going to continue to be prudent and look at things and consider ways to save money,” Donohue said.
“Although you can only cut so much and costs keep going up, we feel like we are not hurting things academically with our cost reductions,” Short said. “We’ve got a good staff. We’ve got a good administrative staff. We have people who are working hard at what they do to make sure that we meet our kids’ needs. What we want to do is maintain as many of the programs as we can for students. ... Even when the levy passes, we’re going to continue to look at cuts and look at reductions. A lot of people in this school system work under grant programs. If the grants go away, ... We are trying to do what we can to protect the general fund as much as possible.”