Jacksonville City Schools

Jacksonville’s schools could end the fiscal year with a $78,892 loss, despite recent cuts to the budget, education leaders learned on Tuesday.

Sara Blount, school system finance officer, said that while she had reduced the $125,000 deficit the system faced at the beginning of the fiscal year in October, there was no non-essential spending left to cut.

The latest deficit was included in a budget amendment the Jacksonville Board of Education passed during its Tuesday meeting so the system could continue receiving certain federal funds.

Blount said that after the board passed its 2018 budget in October, she’d looked for ways to whittle down the $125,000 deficit and had reduced it to $78,892.

“I’ve tried to tweak many different line items, trying to get it down ... taking out $100 here and $300 there,” Blount said. “I think $78,892 is the best I feel like I can do.”

The deficit came after the Jacksonville City Council halved its annual $250,000 stipend to the school system for discretionary spending this year. The city cut the stipend to reduce a deficit it was facing at the start of the 2018 fiscal year.

Blount also said that the system’s reserves have slowly shrunk since the start of the fiscal year. The system currently has slightly more than two months’ worth of operating reserves, Blount said.

The state requires every school system have enough money in reserve to operate for at least one month in case of emergencies. One month’s reserve in Jacksonville is about $1.017 million.

The system had 2.07 months’ worth of reserve money in October, down from 2.17 months’ worth in October 2016 and 3.06 months’ worth in October 2015.

Blount had already warned the board in December that operating reserves were shrinking despite the system having a lean budget this year. Blount had said that unless the system received more money, the only thing left to cut would be employees.

Also during the meeting, Superintendent Mark Petersen said he planned to recommend the board vote on restricting out-of-district enrollment for kindergarten during its next meeting. Petersen said restrictions were needed to prevent possible overcrowding at Kitty Stone Elementary.

Specifically, the idea is to add incoming out-of-district kindergarteners on a temporary waiting list, Petersen said.

“We put students on a waiting list until we have a better idea of seating before the beginning of the school year,” Petersen said.

The new Kitty Stone Elementary building, which opened less than two years ago, currently has 125 kindergarteners, about six of who live outside Jacksonville’s school district.

“We’re running out of space at the elementary school,” Petersen said. “If I have to add another teacher there, where do I put them?”

Other options Petersen mentioned, but wasn’t fond of, included purchasing mobile classrooms for the school or simply forbidding out-of-district students from enrolling.

Petersen said the long-term solution would be for the system to build a middle school. Currently, the system has no money for such a project, he said.

Petersen noted that he expects student enrollment to continue growing, pointing out ongoing development at the nearby Stoney Brook subdivision.

“That means they’re coming,” Petersen said of new students.

The board also received a presentation on the system’s active-shooter-safety measures and protocols during its meeting. The presentation was given because of the school shooting in Florida last week that ended with 17 deaths.

Mike Newell, director of operations for the school system, said the system has two school resource officers who make a point to get to know students.

“They assist us with security measures,” Newell said.

Newell said the schools have electronically locked doors and security cameras. More cameras would soon be added to Kitty Stone, he said.

“And the Jacksonville police observe lockdown drills at the schools,” Newell said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.