By Bob Weaver

The Calhoun Board of Education spent much of Monday's meeting addressing the systems financial challenges.

Joe Panetta, Assistant State Superintendent of School Finance (right), told board members Monday night that the current county deficit is $865,000.

"It will have to be addressed or it will become a serious problem," Panetta said, indicating Calhoun should consider passing a levy to support school services.

"A deficit is when expenses exceed revenue," he said, a deficit problem has been building for about five years.

School board president Steve Whited said, "We're over budget and losing students is a big part of the problem. Losing students does not reduce costs, it decreases our revenue. We're not writing bad checks and we don't owe anybody."

Board member Cynthia Dale re-iterated, "There is no missing money."

Whited said the system is near basic minimums for staffing and service personnel.

The school system has lost 68 students in the past two years, several hundred in the past decade.

The state school aid formula (about $4,500 per student) is based on student enrollment, declining enrollment takes a major toll on the system.

School board members (L to R) Mike Wilson, Steve Whited,
Cynthia Dale, Larry Harris hear Panetta's report

Board member Mike Wilson expressed future concerns about a projected enrollment decline from the current 1,069. He said future projections say the county enrollment is expected to decline to 968 students in 2018-19.

In 1991-92 the enrollment was 1,715.

"It seems like a losing battle for our schools," Wilson said. "Without cutbacks or a levy, it's an uphill battle.

Calhoun is one of a dozen counties without a levy.

Last week, Dan Minney, Chief Financial Officer, presented an overview to the board about the system's financial problems, including the limited number of areas that cuts could be made, saying "Eighty-nine percent of the budget is fixed costs."

"We're making efforts, drilling down to cut costs," Whited said, with substitutes, utilities and elsewhere.

Panetta said Calhoun, much like many other counties, spends over budget for substitutes. "Salaries are a little bit higher than most counties because of a $600 supplement," Panetta said.

Board member Larry Harris said if the board does their best job he has faith that Calhoun people will step-up.

"Any county can run aground under these circumstances," Harris said, who has said administrators must do everything they can to tighten costs.

Panetta said Clay County has a $1,379,133 deficit, while having a small levy to support selective schools.

"You've got a tough job," he told board members.

Panetta discussed what was supposed to have been a 2008 solution for rural counties with low enrollment. Those counties were supposed to have been given school formula money as if they had 1,400 students.

Panetta said that was revised based on the geographic size of the counties, which ended in a major reduction for most of the counties. "I think the formula needs to be re-visited," he said.

"The county needs to seriously look at a levy that will help the county operate the system," he said. "If you passed an excess levy, it would solve the problems," he concluded.

The board will have a special work meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. to continue to address the financial problems.

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