Hickman Mills district leaders on Thursday presented the school board with part of a plan to cut costs by $5.5 million, and then asked to spend nearly $33,000 to hire outside help to figure out the rest.
The board complied, voting unanimously to bring on MGT Consulting of Tallahassee, Fla., to study the district and recommend which of its school buildings are not in full use and could close in the face of a severe budget crunch and decades of declining enrollment.
“We have a problem,” said board member Luther Chandler. “This district is not what it used to be in terms of size, in terms of finances. We are trying to look forward to do what is right for the patrons of this district. This is a work in progress.”
In a memo to board members leading up to Thursday night’s meeting, Superintendent Yolanda Cargile said district leaders need the expertise of the Tallahassee company “in ensuring we are making the best decisions for our students, staff, parents and financial health of our district. “ The cost of hiring the company is $32,700.
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So far school leaders say they can save about $3.2 million by restructuring programs, reducing transportation and cutting back on travel and supplies. But they said the financial hole they are in is deep, and the only way out may include layoffs and closing schools, what they are calling a “right-sizing process.”
The district found itself in dire financial shape this year, in part, leaders said, because of a Jackson County mistake in assessing the 2017 property tax of the new Cerner campus near Bannister Road and Interstate 435.
In addition, district enrollment has declined an average of 72 students a year for several decades. And over the years, before Cargile became superintendent, the district spent deep into its reserves funds. If that money is not restored, Cargile said, the state could move in and take over.
To get the district on stable financial footing, Cargile has said, big reductions are needed and “nothing is off the table.”
The district will host a public forum on the budget ideas at 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at Ruskin High School, 7000 E. 111 St. Officials want to have a complete cost-cutting plan to present to the board at its Feb. 21 meeting.