Finance committee file

The Finance Committee of the St. Joseph School District Board of Education confer in 2019. Board members Lori Prussman, front left, and Kappy Hodges, back right, are done with their six years of service on the board — having opted to not run for re-election.

Those selected to serve our schools were formally presented to the public on Tuesday, joining a panel that also saw its leadership team changed up for the coming term.

The top-two vote recipients among Board of Education candidates from the 2020 Municipal General Election were sworn in at a St. Joseph School District governing body special meeting at the Downtown district office. Lori Witham and Rick Gilmore placed first and second, respectively, in the June 2 election. Four other candidates did not qualify for the two open seats being vacated by Kappy Hodges and Lori Prussman, who each opted to not run for re-election.

Wright on the line

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the last couple of years and there’s a lot still left to accomplish,” said board member Seth Wright, who elected to not seek the board presidency he has held until this moment, the impanelment of the new board, which is composed of five incumbents who were not up for election this year, as well as Witham and Gilmore.

“And so, I think it’s an exciting time for the new board,” Wright added. “I think it’s time to turn it over to someone else and let someone else kind of have the opportunity to lead the board as we kind of go in a new and different direction.”

With Superintendent Dr. Doug Van Zyl presiding, Wright nominated Tami Pasley to take over the presidency, with a tenure to last until April 2021. The nomination carried unanimously.

“I’m pleased to serve as your president, and look forward to having a good year,” Pasley said.

Wright followed up by nominating Lute Atieh to serve as board vice president. That vote also carried without objection. Wright then nominated Donna Baker as board secretary and Dr. Gabe Edgar as board treasurer. The vote carried unanimously. Wright retains his seat on the regular board and cast a vote in all of the matters at hand.

Dollars and percentages

Before the special meeting at the district office, which took place without a live audience — as has each organized gathering of the school district’s governing body since March — for the sake of social distancing, Witham and Gilmore got right to work with the finance committee guided by Edgar, the assistant superintendent of business and operations.

Edgar called the committee’s attention to how the district has been subject to declining revenues in months past, in addition to emergency restrictions from the governor’s office from the aid payments Missouri provides to the district. However he emphasized that the school tax collection rate will be the biggest issue for the future, from a financial perspective.

The district typically enjoys a collection rate of 96 to 97%, Edgar said. However, at least $3.5 million likely will not be collected from local taxpayers that likely would have been available had COVID-19 not occurred. It is best to work with a conservative estimate, Edgar has argued; if his fears are realized, no more than 9 in 10 taxpayers will pay what is obligated.

Pandemic budgeting 101

As the district prepares to enter Fiscal Year 2021, the money is lined up to meet obligations for now, but the planning process for FY 2022 begins this fall and that is when the significant shortfall must be accounted for.

More than 3 in 4 of all the dollars the district spends on an annual basis is directed to paying staff, faculty and administrators either directly or in funding benefit programs. Thus, a major shortfall is certain to mean position eliminations, though the district hopes to do this primarily via allowing people to retire and then go without replacement, rather than by laying off personnel.

“I think it will come in higher than 90 (percent payment),” Edgar said. “But, it’s hard to guess. Obviously, we’ve never been in a position like this before. So, I think 90 is a good number.”

Marcus Clem can be reached at marcus.clem@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowClem