The Washington County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday evening to use a portion of its fund balance to fund a $1.6 million budget deficit.
In May, the board requested that the County Commission provide the monies to fund the deficit so that money for technology, maintenance, nurses, teachers and instructional assistants wouldn’t have to be cut. With the county facing a $4.2 million deficit of its own, Mayor Dan Eldridge proposed to Director of Schools Ron Dykes that the school board fund its own needs from its fund balance this year with the understanding that the commission would help with next year’s deficit.
“He was hoping that the board would consider using our fund balance ... to balance our $1,665,000 shortfall,” Dykes told the school board. “In return for that consideration he was willing to recommend to the full commission that since these are reoccurring costs, next year, 2013-14, that the County Commission would then vote to use their fund balance to continue funding of this year’s reoccurring needs.”
Eldridge and Dykes had met with the county’s auditors to make sure they were comfortable with the school board using so much of its fund balance this year. Dykes said the auditor told him the school board would be in excellent shape unless the commission chose not to follow through with providing funding next year. If that is the case, the school board will likely have to tap into its emergency fund, which is mandated by the state to be maintained at 3 percent of the total budget, for any unforeseen costs.
“But, (the auditor) also said because of the conservative management of this board that not only was this realistic but that it helped the county significantly as well as the school district because not only did the school district receive its requested additional expenditures but the county itself was committing to a continuation of those,” Dykes added.
In addition to the school board’s anticipated shortfall in operational expenses for next year, Dykes said the system will also have to purchase six large school buses, three small buses and new textbooks. He estimated the total of those items to be about $1.2 million.
“We have paid for buses and/or textbooks with federal money — either the jobs money or the ARRA funds — for the last three years. We’ve not used local money. We’ve actually been able to save those dollars but those will be zeros next year regarding revenue, so that will have to be a consideration.”
Eldridge told the board he was unprepared to commit to providing those additional funds but believes having a year to work on finding the money should help.
“The significant thing I think certainly from the school board’s standpoint is the ability to accomplish these things that I understand are essential,” Eldridge said. “From the County Commission’s standpoint, I appreciate your all’s cooperation in understanding that this is not the year to raise taxes at all.
“Yes, we’re faced next year with having to use the county’s fund balance but that puts another year down the road hopefully the opportunity of being able to see new revenue, increased revenue and other options that can be identifiable between now and then to deal with funding schools long term. That’s what I’d like to see.”