R-II Board Adopts Amended Budget

By MARK EVANS

mevans@stegenherald.com

R-II School Board members approved an amended 2020-21 budget and got updates on improvements in district technology and on 2020 homecoming plans at the Sept. 15 board meeting.

The meeting was held again in the high school Common area, where social distancing is easier. All the members and those giving reports wore masks or face shields.

The amended budget projects heavy deficit spending. Improved revenues, however, may well avoid that.

“In June we did something a little bit different,” Dr. Julie Flieg, superintendent of schools, explained. “It’s  something we’ve done in the past when the economy has been unstable. We adopted the current amended budget …basically this is the first amendment. We’ll have to make another one in February.”

At that June 16 meeting, Flieg had said that with tax filings moved back from April 15 to July 15, “We’re kind of holding our breath to see how that revenue comes in.”

Things are still uncertain enough to cause the district to proceed with caution.

“This amendment takes into the basic philosophy,” Flieg said. “We always try to balance our programs and services for students and be fiscally responsible to our patrons.”

She said, like previous superintendents, she is “very conservative on revenue” when figuring budgets and “as accurate as possible” on expenses, while building in some contingency money.

The budget was about 175 pages, showing  projected total revenue at $27,931,630 and projected expenditures of $28,850,744, for an anticipated deficit-spending figure of $919,114..

“The budget is based on projections … and the state of the economy,” Flieg said. “As we know the state of the economy is unstable because of the caronavirus. We’re just not sure what’s going to happen. Of course we all hope the economy is going to stabilize and start to reopen.”

Flieg urged the board not to “freak out too much” over the $919,114 figure, though.

Part of the need for this is the fact that this year’s debt service payment is $2.5 million – actually some $2.7 million with interest, by far the largest single-year payment.

“We’re going to take approximately $575,000 out of the balance of debt service and make this payment and the interest [payment,” Flieg said. “We can’t use debt service money for anything else, so that money is sitting there, waiting to be spent.”

Under “operating fund,” Flieg said a $344,000 deficit is being projected.

“Some of those expenses are for COVID-19 related items,” she said, Plexiglas, masks, disinfectant, all kind of auctions.”

Flieg said she hopes much of that may be reimbursed either by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or through  Ste. Genevieve County’s federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security [CARES] Act funds.

Grants are also being pursued. Some $200,000 in contingency funds are also on hand.

“Overall, Flieg said, “We’re really kind of looking at a balanced budget.”

It does meet all state requirements, she added.

Flieg expressed appreciation to building principals for their help in the process.

“I know the deficit spending numbers are big, but the majority of the deficit has been intentionally built in to cover that debt service payment,” Flieg said.

Bova said that while the $919,000 “is a big number,”  the district’s conservative revenue estimates in recent years have allowed budgets to come out balanced despite projections of deficit spending.

“Both of those years we ended up in the black,” despite projections of more than $500,000 in deficit spending. He also thanked the community for supporting the district’s projects.

HOMECOMING UPDATE GIVEN BY STUDENTS

Student Council officers Addie Taylor and Christian Kiefer updated the board on the upcoming homecoming festivities, made more challenging by the pandemic.

“This year’s homecoming will obviously be very, very different,” Taylor said. She said the Student Council got as much input as possible from high school and middle school students.

She said “coming together” in a sense was important.

“The student council, especially officers, really wanted to put our fall in this and really focus on an aspect that will bring us together,” Taylor said.

A food drive is being held,Kiefer said, along wit hall decorating and a possible scavenger hunt. Dress-up days, an old favorite, will continue.

With a homecoming parade not a viable option due to crowd restrictions, points to participate in the annual Powder Puff Football Game are being earned by hall decorating instead of work on homecoming floats.

No student coaches will be on the sideline this year and no practices will be held.

REOPENING PLAN IS COVERED

Flieg also went over the Version 4 of the district’s reopening plan. It continues to make free lunches available, even to students learning at home and limits community use of campus facilities.

She praised district communications director Bailey Otto with keeping the public up[dated in the constantly-changing landscape of the pandemic.

“She’s doing a great job,” Flieg said. “She put all this together and it looks fantastic and she does a very good job of pushing all this information out.”

A homecoming assembly will be held at the football field Friday at 1:30 p.m.

One of the big worries, they said, was whether  a homecoming dance could be held.

“Obviously , we had a very large number of people who were very apprehensive about having a dance,” Taylor said, “which was understandable.”

“There was a lot of anxiety going into this,” she added.

“An extremely helpful “ meeting between StuCo officers and administrators clarified some things and led to the officers contacting the county health department.

Taylor called the ability to hold a dance “an enormous win for us.

“I know spirits were very, very low when we were basically [facing] the idea that we were not having this dance,” Taylor said. “So, the fact that we get to have this the cooperation of the administration is really fantastic. We could not be more excited.”

It will be an outdoor dance on the football field with “a lot of open space for people to social distance,” along wit hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations, Taylor said. No outside dates will be allowed this year.

Flieg later added that being able to have a somewhat normal homecoming will greatly help the student body’s “mental well-being” after highly-anticipated spring events like prom and graduation were derailed by the virus.

PRINCIPALS GIVE FIRST REPORTS

Building principals gave their first reports since March. All four expressed pleasure in getting to see students again, even though the look, feel and sound of school is much different this year.

New Ste. Genevieve Elementary principal Nanya Gegg got to give her first report since taking over the position. She reported that the annual open house had to be handled differently, due to the pandemic, on August 19. About 10 to 15 families of kindergarten, preschool and Early education students attended. A virtual open house was then held on August 20 for other students.

She said students leaned about 9/11 on Sept. 11 and that seven positive office referrals were handed out during the opening weeks.

Louann Zuspann reported that Bloomsdale Elementary had been focusing on “small-group learning” and thanked parents for their support. Teachers were asked for an amazon “wish list” things they would like for their classrooms.

Bloomsdale also had  a scaled-back open house for pre-K through second grade and a virtual open house for grades 3-5.

Dr. Scott Mercer, middle school principal, reported that sixth-grade orientation was held since orientating incoming students is “important enough we couldn’t cancel it.”

Means of allowing clubs and groups to safely meet were found and lunch detention is being tried, which does not interfere with class time. A virtual open house is coming up, he said.

Mercer said he couldn’t imagine any other school district enjoying the success the R-II district has, calling it “a beautiful recipe.”

Dr. John Boyd, assistant principal, gave the high school report. He said attending a cross country meet helped him experience  “a sense of mormalcy” and complimented Dr. Jeff Nix, athletic director, for finding safe means for getting the fall sports season off the ground.

He mentioned Dr. Tracey Eatherton, longtime family and consumer sciences teacher, winning a lifetime achievement award. He also thanked the board for its support.