Franklin Special School District projecting revenue losses, increased number of economically disadvantaged students due to coronavirus

The district is anticipating economic effects from the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot via Franklin Special School District)
The district is anticipating economic effects from the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot via Franklin Special School District)

The district is anticipating economic effects from the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot via Franklin Special School District)

As school district officials prepare for the 2020-21 school year, they are faced with a new challenge: how to balance a budget in the midst of a pandemic.

Franklin Special School District officials met virtually May 18 for the first of three budget workshops for fiscal year 2020-21.

David Esslinger, associate director of schools for finance and administration, said the district is projecting tax revenue losses for this year as local revenue declined in the last quarter of FY 2019-20.

Esslinger said the district is projecting a loss of more than $220,000 in local sales tax revenue as local spending slowed during late March through April.

Local municipalities typically see receipts for sales tax revenue about three months after the month of spending. As such, Esslinger said collections in March—when many businesses began to shut down due to COVID-19—will be received in June and are expected to be about 75% of what the district received last year. April collections—when businesses were completely shuttered—will be received in July and are expected to be even lower, he said.

“We’ve estimated collections to be 50% that of July of 2019,” Esslinger said. “We are hopeful that our strong economy in Williamson County will return quickly; however, if our projections hold true, we will end this fiscal year $220,886 below what we budgeted for sales tax revenue.”

The district is also projecting a loss of more than $45,000 in local property tax revenue, based on three-year averages in past collections, Esslinger said. While he said he was not sure of the cause for the projected shortfall, there is still a chance that revenue gap could be filled in the next couple of months.

“There is a wide variance in those months of collections over the year, ... so we are still hopeful that we will meet our property tax collections,” he said.

Esslinger said the district will see some savings due to the schools being closed for the last three months of the 2019-20 school year. The district saved more than $57,500 in utilities, fuel costs and auto insurance for school buses.

While the district is preparing for possible losses ahead of FY 2020-21, officials also said local families are dealing with losses as well. FSSD Director of Schools David Snowden said the district could see in increase in its number of impoverished students as a result of the economic downturn and the rise in unemployment rates caused by COVID-19.

According to 2019 data from the Tennessee Department of Education, about 13.3% of students in the district were classified as economically disadvantaged. The state average is 34.9%.

“Many of you heard me say this back when we had an economic recession back in [2008-09] and possibly carried over until 2010: We do expect to see an increase, because of this economic downturn, of our students in poverty. And as you know, you’ve got two kinds of poverty: generational poverty and situational poverty,” Snowden said. “Our generational poverty numbers do not change a whole lot from year to year. [When] we have economic downturns, recessions, depressions—whatever terminology you want to use—then, you normally see an increase in our students on reduced lunch and free lunch, and we’re anticipating seeing the same thing for this next budget year.”

Additional budget workshop sessions will be held May 28 and June 15, according to the district. The budget is slated to be adopted during the board of education's July meeting.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.