Van Buren School District officials have been waiting on a piece of positive financial news for several months now and are hopeful it will arrive in time for the Jan. 14 school board meeting.
The news concerns the amount of money the district is expected to receive from the state’s property tax relief fund. The funds will be coming to the district, as they do each year; it’s just a matter of when they will be received.
And that, in turn, affects the district’s unrestricted fund balance.
“We are looking for a target of about a $4.3 million ending balance to our unrestricted fund,” Van Buren Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat told the school board in December. “Based on the last few months we’re at $3.6 million, so we’re below the target.”
One item that will bring the balance closer to that $4.3 million goal is an expected payment from Arkansas Tech University for the use of Van Buren teachers who teach its courses to Van Buren High School students.
“At the last board meeting we processed our payment to Arkansas Tech University in the amount of $300,000,” Jeffcoat said of the amount the district pays to ATU as tuition for its students who have enrolled in the university’s classes. “That will be deposited back into our funds later in the year.”
The other issue is the property tax funds, which has been a talking point for several months.
“Nothing has changed with that. As a matter of fact, since we met last we’ve received zero dollars in property tax relief,” Jeffcoat said.
That doesn’t mean the funds aren’t coming.
“We did reach out to the state to ask specifically when we would expect to receive the money,” Jeffcoat said. “We’re about $300,000 behind from where we have been in the last few years. What we’re hearing is that schools will likely receive a lump sum payment in January that will be for the 2020 year. So we won’t receive any more funds it sounds like from January (2020) to January (2021), which is the entire year’s worth. For us that’s about $2.3 million. So there is the possibility we’ll receive it (in January). That’s what it sounds like.”
The superintendent said the delay “could be problematic” for the district and that the reason why is “kind of complicated” to explain.
“In the past we’ve received a certain amount of the money in July, August and September,” he said. “What we have received in those months has been around $400,000. So far we’ve received close to $100,000. With that property tax being less those few months than it’s been the previous years, then you have to subtract that off of what we’ll receive the rest of the year. If they’re going to just give a lump sum payment then we’ll miss out on those additional dollars in the early part of the year. So instead of the $2.3 million we could be around $1.2 million or even a little less.”
Jeffcoat said as of now the “jury’s still out on what that’s going to look like exactly,” but added that it does sound like a better update will be available for the next meeting.
“We usually find out our collections around the middle of the month, so hopefully when we meet on Jan. 14 we will have all our answers for what we will receive,” he said.
Jeffcoat said while the balance isn’t where he’d like it to be with regard to the year-end goal, he feels the district will show big gains toward that goal as 2020 unfolds.
“While we’re lower than we want to be there are reasons for it and we’ll make up some of that ground – and hopefully all of that ground – in the next few months,” he said.
Jeffcoat also reported to the board during its December meeting that the renovation project at the high school softball field is “moving along nicely” and getting closer to completion. He added that officials were scheduled for a punch list walkthrough at Oliver Springs Elementary School to see what items needed to be completed and to set dates for completing those items.
“It is moving along very quickly,” he said of the new build.
Before adjourning to executive session the board approved the transfer of one student out of the district and four into the district.
During the seven-minute executive session the board approved the following personnel matters:
• Hiring of Rodney Moses as JROTC AI at Van Buren High School.
• Partial termination of Heather Evans as coach of the Trap Club at Freshman Academy and Van Buren High School and termination of Evans as a bus driver for the district.
• Hiring of David Buttress as a district cook.
• Hiring of Greg Dove as special education aide technician at the Freshman Academy.
• Hiring of Teresa McGuire as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and office assistant at Central Elementary School.
• Hiring of Megan Swearingen as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and office assistant at Parkview Elementary School.
• Hiring of Brennan Will as a bus driver for the district.
• Accepted the resignation of Lynda (Carli) Isadore as Title I paraprofessional at Van Buren High School.