County school budget facing Catch 22 again

Friday, July 13, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Marshall County's School Board has drafted a budget totaling some $37 million and during a meeting with county commission committeemen on Tuesday, the board sought advice on whether a shortfall between revenue and spending could be drawn from reserves.

The request drew a grim response because of an unresolved Catch 22 imposed by two state requirements. It's the conflict between a requirement to maintain a safe level of money in reserve and the state's Basic Education Program prohibition against counties spending less of local money on schools compared to the year before.

If money is drawn from reserves, the BEP requirement effectively increases spending and thereby raises what's called the maintenance of effort (MOE). That means the increased amount of local money spent one year must be maintained the next year. It also means that local spending on schools can't be reduced.

Last month, commissioners on the county budget committee advised school officials that they should expect no more money from the county general fund than what was appropriated last year. The advice was for the board to submit an MOE budget.

Schools Director Jackie Abernathy sought support for the board's proposal to draw approximately $550,000 from reserves. That would lower the fund balance, but would not threaten a potential violation of the state's required level of reserves.

Meanwhile, the system provided data showing enrollment is going up and spending per pupil is going down.

The board was scheduled to meet Thursday evening.