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School board OKs $74M budget

County clerk Larry Clarke administers the oath of office to school board member Dean Martin at the beginning of the Sept. 24 special board meeting. Martin was re-elected to the post in the Sept. 17 school board election. Photo Ed GaluckiBuy Photo
County clerk Larry Clarke administers the oath of office to school board member Dean Martin at the beginning of the Sept. 24 special board meeting. Martin was re-elected to the post in the Sept. 17 school board election. Photo Ed Galucki

After adjusting for bond issues and other effects, a drop in revenue and expenses for Cabot School District is not what it appears to be. Tina Wylie, district comptroller, explained the 2013-14 school year budget to the school board during a special meeting held Sept. 24.

Other matters included installing Dean Martin to a new term on the school board and discussion of background checks required for volunteers and for chaperones.

Superintendent Tony Thurman and board members Martin, Ricky Hill, Wendel Msall, Donna Nash, Corey Williams, Brian Evans and Mark Russell attended the meeting.

While a summary comparison of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 budgets shows a drop from last, it is affected by nearly $12 million in bond proceedings counted as revenue and expenses, Wylie said.

When that money is taken into account, there is an increase of about $2 million from last year, she said.

Wylie said the overall increases in the budget from last school year are softened by some project costs, covered in last year’s budget, not carrying over into the new budget. So while some particular areas, such as pupil support, are showing increases, the percentage increase in total costs is not as large.

Moving substitute teacher pay from salaries into the operating fund, as a purchased service, softened increases in teacher salaries, Wylie said. The move was made because the district now uses temporary employment services to provide substitute teachers.

Otherwise there would have been a greater increase in the teacher salary fund, Wylie said.

Transportation costs are somewhat lower for the coming year because the district purchased seven new buses last year, leaving only two to be purchased in coming school year. Prices of the buses range from about $89,000 to $125,000, and are the state bid price, she said.

Also, debt payments last year were reduced because several payments were skipped during refinancing. Those payments resumed with the new budget and show up as a $900,000 increase in that budget item, Wylie said.

The ending balance continues to strengthen, though bond financing makes this year’s 9.85 percent somewhat higher than it would be otherwise, Wylie said. Total expenses, as listed, include funds used for a second-lien bond issue. If the funds were taken off, the ending percent would be, more correctly, 9.1 percent, but then the expenditures would be off, she said.

Thurman said there is no firm rule on the ending percentage, though six to 10 percent is considered as good.

Questions of revenue are difficult to answer, Wylie said. Part of the local revenue is estimated because of an overlap in budget cycles between school operations and county tax collections, she said. The school operates on a July-June fiscal year, while the county tax system operates on a calendar year, she said.

While some residents pay their tax bills in the first half the year, most do not pay until closer to the October due date, Wylie said. That makes revenue coming to the district through property taxes not well defined until about November, she said.

Thurman explained some of the increase in pupil support as due to the decision to take some of the financial burden for general student supplies, such as hand sanitizer and facial tissue, off the families. The increase for the district means reducing the estimated cost to families from $35 to $20 for the year. “Because we can get a better price than anyone can at the store … we buy things in bulk and get really good prices,” to defray the cost of general items, he said.

“I think parents were appreciative of it,” Wylie said.

The carry-over from the 2012-13 budget was $6.7 million; the carry-over for the end of the 2013-14 school year is estimated at $7.2 million.

A breakdown of the expected 2013-14 revenue is local taxes: $24.3 million; state funds: $49.3 million; other state aid: $583,550; unrestricted federal aid: $230,000. No additional aid is projected for student growth; last year the district gained about $318,000 due to student growth. Total revenue estimate is $74.4 million.

In expenditures, certified salaries: $36.2 million; Instructional/Pupil Support: $18.3 million; general administration/principals: $4.4 million; maintenance and operations: $7.3 million; transportation: $3.2 million; other/transfers: $164,000; debt payments: $4.6 million; with total expenditures of $74.3 million.

In other matters, Thurman said a decision needs to be made to the extent of the background checks to be required of volunteers working in the schools and chaperones for school events.

Thurman recommended the HallPass system for escorted visitors, and check of the Child Maltreatment Registry (CMR) in addition to the criminal background check for Hallway Heroes and for the chaperones who would spend the night with children. Hallway Heroes need the check because they would have unrestricted access to the school grounds, Thurman said.

Russell said that, for overnight events, there is enough time to require a CMR check. The parents he knew who went on such trips would have no problem with the $15 charge for the check.

Nash said she had concerns about individuals who appear on the list, but had been found by the court that they had done nothing wrong. “But their name is still on that list,” she said.

Martin noted that even a report of sending a child to school without a coat could be enough for an entry in the CMR. All it would take is a caseworker having a bad day to put a person on the list, he remarked. “There is one person who is judge and jury on this,” he said.

“This system, I don’t like it for that fact alone … there is not enough checks and balances on this system,” Martin said.

Russell countered that, without such a system, a sex-offender awaiting trial could be sent with a child. “They are not going to be flagged anywhere. Arrested, but yet to be convicted,” he said.

Thurman said anyone on the CMR for what is determined to be unfounded reasons, can produce documentation showing the finding. Also, simply knowing the CMR check is made would be deterrence in the same manner as the drug checks, he said.

“You don’t want to catch anybody. Hopefully, those people who know they are in this situation, they aren’t even going to push it,” Thurman said.

Typically, this would be an administrative decision, Thurman said about the background checks.

General consensus was that additional check is not needed for the HallPass system, but is preferred for any event requiring an overnight stay. However, no decision was made for the Hallway Heroes.

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