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School savings on edge, board says



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February 19, 2014 - As school administration prepares next year's budget, the plan is to fund $9.5 million in critical-needs spending while maintaining a five-percent fund balance.

"It's looking positive right now for Clarkston," said Mary Beth Rogers, Executive Director of Business Services at the Feb. 10 school board meeting. "The governor proposed an $83 increase per student – things are looking better."

Administration maintains a critical-needs list including more teachers to reduce class sizes, wireless technology updates, and soon-to-be-overdue building renovations. They will narrow down the list as state budget details become clearer over the next few months, said Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock.

"We need to address these things, we believe, that are very important," Rock said. "The recomendation is to approach five percent and address critical needs as much as possible. We can't do it all, increase the fund equity and provide new computers – (but) we're in a better position than in several years, with new homes being built. I hope we're turning the corner."

Trustee Steve Hyer has looked at the budget and sees no more room to cut.

"We've eliminated everything we could have in the last 12 years," Hyer said. "We have to address critical needs – they would be critical needs if they weren't critical."

A five percent fund balance, calculated to be about $3.8 million for the 2015 school budget, is right at the edge, said board Treasurer Joan Patterson.

"This scares me," Patterson said. "I'd like to do little more research to firm up numbers."

The state is considering recommendations from a Financial Accountability for Schools' Workgroup, which met last year, to take note of districts' fund balances – "green lights" for districts with at least 15 percent fund balances, "yellow lights" for fund balances of 10-15 percent, and "red lights" for fund balances of less than five percent.

"I don't want someone from outside the district saying we're not running it wisely, so we're stepping in," Patterson said.

Patterson said they should be open to ideas from the community.

"There are really great ideas out there," she said.

Hyer said increased revenue could come from partnerships with other districts.

"I think we need to explore what avenues are out there," he said. "The way to get to these critical needs doesn't mean more taxes – it means getting creative. Administration has been exploring every good idea and every bad idea."

Trustee Cheryl McGinnis said they should not focus too much on increasing the fund balance.

"I feel we have students right now in classroom seats we need to educate – I feel an obligation to provide students the best education we possibly can without spending every dollar," McGinnis said.

The two-year budget's parameters also assume a loss of 70 students in 2015 and 50 students in 2016; cost for employee benefits to increase by 10 percent in 2016; per-pupil state funding increases of $83 in 2015 as well as 2016; and one percent increases in retirement costs for 2015 and 2016. According to the parameters, fund equity would be $3.8 million in 2015 and 2016.

The $9.5 million in critical needs would include $1.44 million to reduce class sizes, $4.2 million in other personnel costs, $2.357 million for technology, and $1.5 million for operations.

The administration will present budget recommendations at upcoming meetings, Rock said.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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