school_board2012-13_120Lansing School Business Administrator Mary June King gave the Lansing Board of Education a first look at the 2013-2014 $26.95 million budget Monday.  As in the last several years there is a daunting budget gap, this time $3,240,000.  In past years school officials have reduced the gap by applying monies not spent in the previous year, making cuts in personnel and materials, using reserves, and raising taxes.

In past years the district has struggled with declining state and federal aid, referred to as the 'budget cliff' as well as a dramatic decrease in the negotiated value of the local power plant, the district's largest taxpayer, from $160 million in 2009-2010 to $74 million in the coming year to $60 million two years from now.  Despite the power plant decline King was optimistic.

"I would say it doesn't look as bad as it's looked in the last few years," she said.  "I think the big piece of that is that we don't have a funding cliff.  We have the power plant decrease, but we don't have a federal aid funding cliff, which is the uphill battle we've been fighting for the last several years."

State aid was higher than expected last year, but it declined from $1,534,652 to 1,311,833 this school year.  In the past three years special federal aid more or less offset state cuts, but that revenue went to $0 this year. 

King said that most of the money is being spent in the classroom.  She noted that at the last audit meeting the external auditor made a point of saying that Lansing is impressive in that 77.3% of this year's expenditures go toward instruction, which he said he hasn't seen in any other school system.  11.96% goes to general support, and 5.26% to transportation.  The auditing firm audits 32 school districts.

The rising cost of employee benefits is the biggest factor in a budget that is currently projected at almost a million dollars higher than the current school budget.  King noted that supplies have been cut to the bone to the point where that budget line has to be raised to meet the minimum need of teachers in the classrooms.  She warned that it will not be easy to come up with a balanced budget that taxpayers can afford.

"We need to think about where we're going to come up with those dollars to cover that gap," she said.  "As you well know I have tightened and tightened and tightened for the last few years both the budget projections and the revenue projections.  So there's not a lot of room to squeeze these any more.  We're dangerously tight."