New Bloomfield schools outsource budget prep

— The School Board Thursday night decided to hire a consultant to prepare next year’s district budget.

The board agreed to pay $10,000 to hire Jason Hoffman of JAMM Consulting LLC, of Jefferson City, to perform the consulting work. The firm is headed by Jason Hoffman, who is the chief financial officer of the Jefferson City School District.

Interim Superintendent Thomas Baugh said Hoffman earlier had reviewed the New Bloomfield School District books and uncovered a funding source that means the district will have about a $100,000 reserve in its current budget.

Baugh said many small schools like New Bloomfield struggle with finances because most superintendents don’t have training in preparing school budgets. He said larger school districts hire professionals to manage school finances and the budget.

Baugh estimated the district can expect about $200,000 less state school aid next year.

The lack of federal stimulus money this year is part of the reason for less funding. Another reason is lagging state tax revenue, he said.

Baugh said education officials have predicted that the state aid formula will receive between 86 percent and 88 percent funding.

He said a loss of $200,000 in state funding for the New Bloomfield School District “is manageable but not pleasant.” Baugh noted the school board has voluntarily set the tax levy 5 cents below the legal maximum. He said the extra 5 cents would generate about $20,000 in revenue for the school district, but he recommended against the board raising the tax.

“I have asked the administrative team to give me any ideas they might have for potential savings and efficiencies for the district,” Baugh said.

He said the cost of substitute teachers is already $80,000 over the amount budgeted. The board directed Baugh to come up with a solution. But he and other administrators said the biggest problem is hiring young mothers who have children. When the children of young teachers are sick, the teacher stays home, and then often catches the cold or flu of the youngster.

Baugh also warned that the issue of open enrollment also looms in the upcoming legislative session.

“Open enrollment, or some version of that concept, once again is rearing its ugly head,” Baugh said.

He said most of the push for open enrollment comes from problems faced by St. Louis and Kansas City schools. Some legislators want to allow students attending struggling school districts to transfer to neighboring districts.

“Few legislators realize the ripples this could cause all Missouri schools. There have been no acceptable methods of requiring the revenues to follow those students,” Baugh said.

He said there has been little consideration of mandated transportation requirements for students with special needs.

Other unanswered issues include athletic participation and eligibility requirements.

But the biggest issue for rural schools is employment of teachers based on enrollment projections. If numerous students leave or are added when school opens, it could greatly affect the teaching staff.

“As difficult as it is to hire after the start of school,” Baugh said, “it is even a bigger problem to utilize, economically, staff that is under contract and not needed.”

He also reported the annual audit of the district showed the school is in good shape financially. But he expressed dismay at the unresponsiveness of the auditing firm, Mueller Walla & Albertson of St. Louis, hired to do the audit.

Board member Gracia Backer suggested and the board directed Baugh to write a letter to the chief executive officer of the auditing firm expressing the board’s extreme displeasure at the unprofessional conduct and unresponsive attitude of members of the auditing firm.

Leroy Wade, president of the board, suggested that the board revise its agenda to allow the board to concentrate more on improving the academic performance of students at the school and less on routine matters that occupy much of their time.

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