Wright City schools adopt budget amidst uncertainty

Derrick Forsythe
Staff Writer

Through 15 years of administrating finances, incoming Wright City R-II Superintendent Dr. Chris Berger says he’s never faced such a difficult year for budgeting.

The wave of uncertain economic times created additional challenges for R-II board members, along with Berger, as they met on June 25 to adopt the budget for fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. Given the setbacks related to COVID-19 and its impact on revenue, the district is facing an approximate $835,000 deficit in its budget.

With several numbers still unknown, R-II reported an estimated revenue of $23,257,020 compared to a more clear figure of $24,093,005 in expenses — 71 percent of which go toward staff salaries.

“The budget was more complicated, because we did not have an SAT (Standard Adequacy Target),” said Berger. “That’s the dollar driver of the formula. We still don’t know what the SAT is, so we’re all building off our best guesses. There was a lot of mystery this year.”

Berger said the first-quarter amendment that is traditionally carried out in October is more critical than ever this year. He also expressed the importance of R-II maintaining reserves for unpredictable circumstances such as COVID-19.

“In a situation like this, you hope you’ve written a budget in the black, and if it’s in the red, you hope you’ve got the reserves to cover it,” said Berger. “We carry adequate reserves for this reason. They will help carry us through any shortfall this year.”

The biggest unknown facing districts across Missouri is how much support to expect from the state level. In terms of state revenue, the district is estimating a $179,000 decrease for Funds 1 and 2 compared to fiscal year 2020.

County revenues held steady, after dramatic swings in previous years. R-II received a total of $593,000 in county revenues in fiscal year 2020.

“I think locally we’re going to be fine here,” said Berger. “It’s the state revenues that put us in a quandary.”

Assessed valuation for property in the district will not be known until at least mid July. It is anticipated the district will see an increase, given these numbers are based prior to COVID-19.

Once these exact figures are received, they will be reflected in the amended budget in October.

Federal revenue was impacted on several levels. The CARES Act funding for R-II is at $231,000, with $173,000 of that expected to be received in fiscal year 2020.

“We brought the majority of the CARES Act funding in during fiscal year 20, so it will help subsidize a little,” said Berger.

It’s the possibility of a second wave of that relief which leaves the district in limbo. R-II incurred unanticipated expenses as a result of COVID-19, having to purchase provisions for a return to the buildings for fall semester.

“We’re going to remain optimistic that the government comes up with more help, especially when it comes to the implications of social distancing,” said Berger. “Without another package of stimulus from the federal government, I’m not very optimistic we’re going to run in the black.”

The largest COVID-19 related expenses have been $105,000 to supply chrome books on a one-to-one basis from kindergarten through third grade. The district also spent $14,000 to replace water fountains with water-bottle filling stations and $14,000 for temperature scanners to limit the potential spread of the virus.

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