The School District has issued for the next few months a freeze on all non-essential purchases, Business Administrator Peter Curro announced.
Curro said the budget is tight this year due to unanticipated out-of-district tuition costs.
“If we make it through the rest of the year, especially the winter months, without any unplanned events, we should be able to purchase all budgeted and planned supplies and equipment,” he told the Board at its Jan. 19 meeting. “If the District is hit with more unplanned out-of-district costs, we may have to request a withdrawal from the Special Education Trust Fund.”
The unplanned placement tuition and transportation costs will put the Pupil Services program over budget by about $400,000.
In addition to the freeze on non-essential purchases, the District reduced the year-end fund balance from $500,000 to $200,000 in the FY17 budget.
The Board also approved the withdrawal of funds from the School District Impact Fee account to offset the December 2015 property tax rate for education.
“We have seen an upward trend here. I think we need to have a serious discussion about how these costs get incurred,” board member Leitha Reilly said. “Clearly we’re in the business of educating all children. That said, we want to make sure we have lots of contingencies. I’d be curious to find out what other districts are doing. We need to be proactive if we’re going to get hammered with these really extensive costs.”
Superintendent Nate Greenberg said in recent years the District has seen an increase in the number of students moving into the District with more significant challenges, as well as court placements and students attending charter schools.
Among Greenberg’s recommendations for addressing future tuition increases were allocating additional fund balance to the Special Education Trust Fund; adding a buffer to the amount budgeted for out-of-district placements; and funding at a higher level the account for substitute teachers, which is generally underfunded.
Additionally, Greenberg suggested the Board put pressure on the State to fully fund Catastrophic Aid.
“We’re trying to ensure kids are getting the quality services they need, we just need some help from the federal government and the State to ensure we can offer those programs,” he said.
While the expenditure side of the general fund operating budget is projected to come in around $125,000 under budget, Curro said revenues are projected to run about $100,000 over target.
As a group, employee benefits are expected to come in about $80,000 below budget and workers compensation is anticipated will come in around $109,000 over budget.
The main accounts to cover the cost overruns are salary accounts, savings due to professional and full-time staff turnover, expected to realize $783,000.
Curro also reported the Dining Service Program is on track to break even or generate a small profit at year end, with the projection including unplanned capital costs, the transfer of funds from the general funds for the unanticipated cost of free and reduced lunch students at the high school and the deduction of Federal and State funds and commodities for pulling the high school out of the National School Lunch Program.
Catastrophic Aid will come in $27,242 above the estimate, and Medicaid is expected to come in just below the revenue target set for the December tax rate.
“At this point, we are projecting a conservative year-end general fund balance of $225,000,” Curro said. “For now, all accounts have been put on alert. Only crucial operating funds will be approved until we are out of the winter months.”