Of the $127 million the governor released to educational institutions last week, nearly $1.5 million will be returned to St. Francois County.
In May and June, Farmington will receive $499,984, North County will receive $401,821, Central will receive $299,293, West County will receive $125,678 and Bismarck will receive $96,779.
In addition, Mineral Area College will receive $60,554.
Farmington Superintendent Dr. W.L. Sanders said they had budgeted for a negative balance this year so this release of funds will help make up the difference and help them be closer to balancing the budget.
He said it will positively affect the way he looks at salary schedules and health insurance when he prepares next year’s budget.
North County Superintendent Dr. Terry Gibbons said the release of funds will help in some way. He said it means they will have less of a deficit to deal with next year. The district had projected it would have to operate on a $1.5 million deficit next year.
Central Superintendent Dr. David Stevens said it will ease deficit spending. He said it will help them plan for next year’s budget but they still expect to deficit spend next year.
West County Superintendent Stacy Stevens said it was definitely a little boost at this time of the year. He was glad the governor chose to withhold the money at the beginning of the year and not at the end of the year like he had previously done.
Stevens pointed out the schools are still being underfunded by 8 to 10 percent. He said this release of funds will not get them out of the woods for the next fiscal year. He hopes West County will not have to cut programs this year, but they will continue to be very conservative.
Bismarck Superintendent Dr. Damon Gable said the funds will help for next year but not for this year. He said it would have been nice to have the money at the beginning of the year.
Mineral Area College President Dr. Terry Barnes said they will put the money in their contingency fund and will build it into next year’s budget. Barnes said he believes the governor could have released the money much earlier.
Because they don’t know what to expect next year, he said they may budget for a 10 percent withholding ($400,000) this year. They are considering increasing tuition again which could bring in about $200,000. He said they will also put off purchasing things and will continue to try to build up their reserves.
Gov. Bob Holden withheld $210 million from education at the beginning of the fiscal year because he did not believe the budget the legislature approved was balanced. Holden released $83 million of the withholdings in December after the state received extra federal funding.
This time the governor cited a delay in a court action on a lawsuit that could have cost the state $50 million in tax refunds to Southwestern Bell; streamlining of state agencies that yielded $40 million in savings; the redemption of $36 million less in tax credits than previously anticipated; and an $8 million boost in the amount the state is receiving from the national tobacco settlement.
He did not say the release was because of an increase in state revenue this year. Republicans argue state revenue is up about 5 percent from this time last year.
House Speaker Pro-Tem Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said it was a great victory for schools, but it was a battle they never should have had to fight.
“The governor would not agree with our revenue projections and chose to make the majority of his withholdings from education,” Jetton said. “Now we see that revenues are up and the withholdings have forced schools to operate for several months on a lower budget.”
Jetton indicated he was puzzled by the timing of the release. The release came just three days after schools across the state passed tax levies and more than a week before the April 15 tax deadline. He said the governor had said April 15 was important to knowing the exact revenues.
State Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said he is ashamed that once again education is being used as a pawn in a fiscal game both sides play.
Engler said the governor waited two days after local elections to release this money when he could have easily released it much earlier instead of nine months into the budget year.
“I will happily admit that we were lucky on our revenue projections coming in,” he wrote in his weekly Capitol Report. “They were a little bit above what we projected, but I don’t understand why the governor just didn’t say that he erred on the side of caution and was happy that revenue was higher….”
Instead, the governor cited other reasons. Engler said they had known for months about the lawsuit.
“We need to quit playing games with such critical issues like education,” Engler said. “I am happy that our local school districts picked up the extra money they needed to put into reserves for next year. I just wish they could have used it in this year’s budget.”
He said next year they expect to appropriate at or above the level of this year’s funding.
He said the next two weeks will be critical because the state will find out how much in tax credits were used. He said he doesn’t believe the situation will be as dire as predicted.
State Rep. Dan Ward, D-Bonne Terre, believes the governor was doing what he had to do.
Ward said people believe the governor was just sitting on $100 million. He said in an election year, that would be political suicide.
“Yet that is what he is being accused of doing,” he said.
He said when the money came in, the governor gave it back, and it wasn’t just educational funding that had been withheld.
Ward also says education will be funded at or above the current level. But he is concerned more withholdings might have to be made if the majority does not agree on a balanced budget.
He believes it will be another year where the majority has one set of numbers and the budgetary department has another set of numbers — which he believes will be the true numbers.
He is concerned that the majority is not closing corporate loopholes. He said they made one faint attempt to close a loophole. He said if they closed loopholes, that would mean more money for education.
Ward added that when Republicans took over the majority in 2002, they promised no new state taxes. However, he said more than 100 school districts passed either bond issues or tax measures which caused a higher tax burden for senior citizens and families in their own communities.
Ward said he is becoming more concerned about the education issue. He said in 2005, schools in St. Francois County will be facing a crisis. He said 13 teachers at North County may be laid off. He said when schools start to think about laying off teachers, it is a serious situation.