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School budget has uneasy balance

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By Todd Martin

The Shelby County school district presented its tentative budget during Thursday's school board meeting, taking its second look at what 2010-2011 should look like.

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The first budget, the draft budget, was prepared in late January, and the final version, the working budget, will be finished in the fall, once the final enrollment numbers are known.

With the state legislature remaining deadlocked on budget issues while the district was filing its second draft, Shelby County officials were left guessing at what cuts could be coming next.

As it stands now, Shelby County Public Schools is already slicing their margin razor thin. The tentative budget has expenses accounting for 99.6 percent of the district's revenue. Leaving a margin of $16,123 out of more than $40 million in the general fund.

However, some of these numbers could change.

The budget is based off of projected enrollment, and the backbone of any school district's budget comes from the state's Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funds.

That formula provides the district with a certain amount of money per pupil, projected to be $3,866 per student, and SCPS has allotted average daily attendance to be 5,940, or 60 more than in 2009-10.

If next year's enrollment fails to meet that projection, then SEEK money could be lower, but if it exceeds 5,940, then more SEEK money could be made available.

Based on new projections, the district’s budget is about $376,000, or .8 percent, more than January’s draft budget.

Those numbers could change again when the enrollment is set and after property taxes are collected.

“We budget based on our best projections knowing that the variables are student enrollment and attendance, as well local tax collection success rates,” Superintendent James Neihof said. “The things that have been adjusted since January are a slight increase in projected tax revenue, a slight decrease in projected interest income revenue and a slight increase in SEEK revenue based on a slight additional increase in projected enrollment.”

The board does have a contingency fund estimated at about $4.4 million that could be used. In fact, in approving the district’s socalled "unmet needs" earlier in the meeting, the board used that money instead of factoring it into the budget.

To include the unmet needs -- items such as asphalt, classroom setup, roofing projects, the One-Call system, home visits, truancy visits and translator services -- totaled $276,500 and would have put the budget in the red.

“Because we’ve done a good job saving money, we were able to pay for those from our savings,” board member Eddie Mathis told his colleagues.

Neihof was quick to remind the board that the $4.4 million isn’t as much as it seems.

“In terms of payroll for the district, one payroll is about $2 million,” he said. “So really, that’s only about a month’s worth of contingency if something were to happen.”

However, board member Sam Hinkle said the district might want to think about dipping into that savings.

“We might want to think about spending that money on student achievement instead of saving it for a hypothetical disaster,” he said. “We’re not meeting the needs of our students right now.”

Board vice-president Allen Phillips said he recalled what it was like to not have that contingency fund.

“I’ve seen times around here where we didn’t have that money, and we had to lay a lot of people off,” he said. “That’s not something we want to be faced with again.”

Some cuts that have been made, both in Frankfort and by the local district, include the Family Resource and Youth Services Center program (FRYSC), the Flexible Focus fund and technology funds.

The FRYSC and Flexible Focus cuts were made at the state level, but the district was very conservative with its changes.

“The FRYSC cut was accounted for in the tentative budget,” Neihof said. “Our budget is based on reducing all FRYSC employees to a 185-day contract, but if the funding is sustained at a rate higher than that, we will restore their contracts to the extent possible in the state budget allocation.”

The Flexible Focus cuts have left Shelby in a difficult situation.

“One of the Flexible Focus Funds is textbooks, and now it looks as if we are going into yet another year of having almost no textbook funds,” Neihof said. “The answer from the state level is to hold on the textbook adoption cycle. This sounds fine, but we are now entering the third year of waiting to adopt textbooks and instructional resources for mathematics.

“For us, this amounts to nearly a quarter of a million dollars annually that we must either do without and wait or subsidize from reserve funds. So although our budget does balance, it balances at the expense of eliminating something as fundamental as the annual textbook adoption.”

With the state budget finally set, the district now must sit back and wait to see if their enrollment and tax collection projections are correct.

“I struggle to imagine what else we might be able to remove from the budget,” Neihof said. “We have already removed major items such as bus purchases, textbooks and much of our technology funds. At this point, if further cuts are made, I see no other option than to ask our board to dip into our savings.”

  Student awards

Two Shelby County students were recognized at the meeting for winning state and national awards.

Senior Chelsea Schlosnagle won the Girls Going Places Entrepreneurship National Award from Guardian Life Insurance. Schlosnagle won because of the poultry business she has built with her brother Jared on their family’s farm.

What started as a hobby is now a 1,800-chicken operation that sells fresh, free-range eggs to outlets such as Whole Foods Market in Louisville. Schlosnagle won a $10,000 prize that can be used for school or for the business.

Junior John Zehnder took first in the Wired 65 Invention Fair for his electric car. Zehnder invented a wind turbine that attaches to the top of an electric car to recharge the batteries. He was presented a MacBook for winning the energy technologies segment.

  Also at the meeting, the board:

• Awarded the yearbook contracts for the 2010-2011 school year. Herrff Jones won the elementary and middle schools contract for about $14,000, and Jostens was awarded the high school contract for about $59,700.