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School district adds to fund balance

June 11, 2014 - Brandon Twp.- For the first time in six years, the school district budget has an operating surplus.

Jan Meek, executive director of business services for the district, started the school board's public budget hearing June 9 with the announcement, "Good news— we're adding to the fund balance."

The final budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 shows the fund balance at $2,156,827, or 7.94 percent, ending a tumble from the now seemingly lofty fund balance of 18.74 percent in 2008. Officials depleted the fund balance down to a low of 5.73 percent last year as they scrambled to make ends meet as enrollment plunged.

What finally ended the freefall was a 7.5 percent wage reduction for teachers last year. And while the surplus and increased fund balance is good news, it is only a temporary reprieve. Meek is projecting a loss of another 200 students for the 2014-15 school year, which would take the district down to a 5.10 percent fund balance, and anticipates the same loss of students in 2016, which would take the fund balance to zero if nothing changes.

The student enrollment projections are based on multiple factors, including the loss last year of 200 students, as well as kindergarten enrollment of only 100 students, while 300 seniors just graduated. Additionally, after reaching a high of 506 schools of choice students in 2013, that number fell to 464 in 2014 and the number of applications for the fall, as well as phone calls expressing interest is down, leading administrators to believe there will be fewer soc students this year. Kindergarten enrollment is also expected to continue to decline for the next five years, with lower birth rates.

Total district enrollment in February was 2,973 students.

"Challenges remain in the foreseeable future until we get to right-sizing the district, meaning stabilizing enrollment," Meek said. "We can still be a top notch district of 2,000 students, if that is the case five years from now. There are many small districts around the state that have great education programs."

For now, Meek is focusing on a proposed 2014-2015 budget with revenues of $26,402,058 and expenditures of $27,173,454. A budget that includes many positives, she said, including new curriculum initiatives and a new bus fleet.

"We are not taking away from students, we are maintaining buildings and improving curriculum," she said. "We can be a great small district, we just need to get through an adjustment period."

The board will vote on the budget at their regular meeting, set for 6:30 p.m., June 16, at central district office, 1025 S. Ortonville Road.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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