Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

September 12, 2012

As financial woes loom, TPS super urges quick action

TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah Public Schools Interim Superintendent Lisa Presley told board members and administrators this week the district should act now to stave off financial problems that could surface in coming years.

After a presentation of the TPS preliminary 2012-’13 budget Monday night by Finance Director Diane Adamson, Presley “felt compelled” to warn administrators that changes to the district’s expenditures will be necessary.

Federal money has been slashed year after year, and the district is now operating a new elementary school, two new cafeterias, and with about $1 million in new payroll costs.

“If we do not adjust in the next couple of years, we will not be able to maintain this amount of expenditure,” said Presley. “We will have to make some adjustments; either we need more money, or we need to spend less. We’ll be looking at some things this school year, and we will not wait until next school year to make some decisions.”

TPS officials also negotiated increases for district teachers, support staff and administrators earlier this year, which were announced by then-Superintendent Shannon Goodsell. At the time, Goodsell said he believed the district could maintain the additional costs of step increases and new employees.

But Presley, who took over as interim superintendent after Goodsell left in July, recently put together a “rough projection” of what the TPS budget could look like in the next two to three years, considering the pay increases, new staff, and new facility costs, and other factors. She determined the district can’t maintain its current operations without finding additional revenue.

“We’re not panicked by any means, but we have to look toward the future,” said Presley. “We have to be proactive. [TPS employees all] got a step increase and then some, but they deserved it. We have good folks, and we’ve been tightening the belt. ”

Adamson told board members this week that TPS leaders began preparing for the increased expenses and decrease in federal revenue several years ago, knowing the district would be opening a new school and new cafeterias, and adding staff.

District officials have said the expected increase in expenses was a guiding force behind recent spikes in the TPS general fund, which accrued to levels higher than those suggested in the district’s policies and required under state guidelines.

Ad valorem collections have increased in recent years, providing some relief to help offset other decreases, Adamson said. District officials also hope a reorganized transportation program, which accompanied new zoning regulations for TPS this year, will cut down on expenses, though they admit the results may not be known for some time.

Adamson told board members the district has, once again, seen a drastic reduction in special-education funding.

“That continues to go down each year. I think that’s sad; I think that’s one of our most important areas to fund,” said Adamson.

When federal money is cut from special-education services, the district must supplement the loss from the TPS general fund, Adamson said. Special education must be funded at 100 percent of the rate provided the previous school year.

Presley said the district is also experiencing new costs for implementing Common Core standards, which required a large amount of instructional materials.

“We don’t know until we rock along here for a little while what it’s going to cost us to maintain Sequoyah per pupil, to maintain the additional costs that Heritage will add to the budget,” said Presley. “It’s still early.”

Board members also heard this week from Child Nutrition Program Director Rhonnie Kerns, who said the district’s cumulative daily plate cost of $4.50 last month was “higher than it’s ever been.”

“It’s kind of scary,” said Presley.

The spike can be attributed to additional payroll, new kitchen equipment, and the reorganization of Sequoyah Elementary into a pre-kindergarten site, she said.

The average plate at Sequoyah cost the district $10.19 last month, Kerns said, while average plate costs at other schools across the district was just more than $3 each.

“Enrollment [at Sequoyah] is small and costs are high, so that school’s going to be a huge factor this year for us,” Kerns said. “But we’re grateful for what we’ve got and we’ll make it work.”

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