School district short $500,000 from state

Lisa Depies

With the state of Illinois once again facing budget shortfalls, Geneseo school officials are left wondering when — or if — they’ll receive promised funding.

“We received our third quarter reimbursements from the state around July 6, but we’re still short reimbursements for the last quarter of our fiscal year,”?said Geneseo superintendent Scott Kuffel.

“All together, we’re about $500,000 short over what we should have received last fiscal year.”

The Geneseo School? District receives state reimbursement for certain transportation costs along with funding for programs such as Title?I and pre-kindergarten.

State transportation reimbursement is used to help pay the cost for regular bus routes as well as any special education transportation. Transportation costs for extra-curricular activities are paid entirely by the district.

“We pay about $2 million a year for transportation,” said Kuffel. Of that amount, $1.4 million is reimbursed by the state.

“When we’re short a couple of those payments, it places a big burden on our transportation fund,” he said.

As for the other programs generally receiving state reimbursement, Kuffel said school districts have been advised against spending any obligated money during the month of July by the state board of education.

“Anything that was being paid by the state is now being paid by the districts,”?he said. In Geneseo, most programs reimbursed by the state only operate during the school year, however Kuffel said other districts, which operate year-round programs, must use local funds.

The uncertainty school districts face regarding funding can lead to challenges and difficulties.

“We have to notify employees if they’re not going to be brought back, and we’re not receiving funding information until after the notification deadlines have passed,” said Kuffel. The situation especially affects employees, such as Title I instructors, whose salaries are paid by state grant funding.

“What we’re going to have to do is make decisions on those grant programs earlier than we’d like. We’ll be making decisions in February or March for the 2010-11 school year,”?he said.

With state legislators still debating the Illinois budget, school districts are left in a lurch. “The governor has been looking at a 50 percent budget for many of the state funds for this coming fiscal year. We’re trying to figure out whether we’re going to get all of our money for the first half of the year, and then have them re-visit the final funding for the year, or if they’re just going to set a budget for 2009-10 and say it’s at 50 percent,”?said Kuffel.

Though the state’s facing a budget crisis, the Geneseo School District is in better shape. The district has $2.5 million in the education fund and $4 million in its working cash fund that can be used to cover shortfalls.

“We’re fortunate. We’re in a good position and can weather this storm better than some of our neighbors, but it’s going to be a challenge,” he said.

And, it’s a challenge Kuffel expects to continue. “I think things are going to get worse,” he said. “The several billion dollars the governor was able to put into the state school budget to stabilize that account is only good through this year. When we get to Fiscal Year 2011, we’re going to see more cuts unless something is done to remedy the situation.”

Despite funding uncertainty, Kuffel said the district’s goal “is to continue to improve the quality of education, not take away from it.”

Though if state cuts continue, “We could see an impact on some of the extras,” he said. “Over time, there might have to be a change to the number of extra coaches or teacher aides we have, but I don’t think any of that will be in this upcoming school year.”

Many of the “extras” in the district are already covered by booster groups, parents or endowment funds, and if state funding continues to be sparse “There will be a greater burden on local taxpayers and parents to meet needs,” he said.