A successful lawsuit has not resolved funding problems at the Area Workshop, which employs handicapped people from Barry and Lawrence counties in Monett.
Six sheltered workshops brought suit against the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for failing to include a pay raise in the per-employee stipend authorized by the Missouri General Assembly.
The Circuit Court in Cole County ruled last month that the workshops were correct in requesting $2 more per handicapped workers, retroactive on July 1, 2008. In the ruling, Circuit Judge Richard Callahan noted the state statute cited by the workshops stipulates that DESE "shall pay" the funds.
Money from the state department represents an average of 17 percent of revenues that workshops receive. State money is generally used to supplement workshop earnings through various business services and products.
"We understand that appropriations are the responsibility of the legislature, but we felt that because of the statutes it should be paid in the manner outlined by the law," said Randy Hylton, a member of the Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers. "The biggest issue for most workships is that we need a consistent payment method so that we can budget for our programs. We felt the best way to determine the answer was to bring a friendly legal action to answer the question."
The lawsuit compelled DESE to pay an additional $1,666,445.97 to sheltered workshops across the state. However, in a memo issued on May 6, DESE Director of Sheltered Workshops Fulvio Franzi stated the disbursement created a funding shortfall for the current state fiscal year.
Funding for workshops would end up with a four-day shortfall for April and the entire month of May. The Area Workshop in Monett received $14,000 less than expected.
Mica Plummer, director for the Area Workshop, said no lay-offs are planned as a result. Handicapped employees would continue to work their normal 30-hour week. Pay would come out of the Workshop's savings.
"We have a very small amount in the bank that lets us keep working," Plummer said.
House Bill 2 recently passed by the General Assembly includes $24 million for sheltered workshops. Plummer checked with Hylton and was informed there is no money in the new legislation to cover the shortfall in fiscal year 2008-09.
Several additional financial pressures are also squeezing the Workshop at this time. Plummer said a year ago, recycled cardboard was bringing in $145 a ton. This year, the Workshop is getting $35 a ton.
Three tons delivered to Joplin in the past month brought less than one ton a year ago, Plummer said. The price presently does not cover the cost of running a truck to collect cardboard or the staff needed to gather and bundle shipments.
WinTech and EFCO, two Monett industries that have provided regular jobs for the Workshop, have had reduced work weeks over the past few months. As industrial work picks up, Plummer hopes that jobs for the Workshop will bounce back as well.
For several years, EFCO has also leased space in the Workshop building, adjacent to EFCO's Dairy Street factory, for cutting and machining metal. EFCO has planned to reduce its workspace and leave the Workshop's building. Plummer said she has received notification that EFCO will leave the Workshop at the end of May. The loss of EFCO will further reduce Workshop income by $2,800 a month.
"We're just doing the best we can," said Plummer. "We've been on a roll for a couple years. As our board said, we have a new roof, a nice new parking lot and the building has been rewired. We're doing well. We just need more work."