2016-10-14 / Community News

Decreased debt service boosts fund balance

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Although more than three months into the fiscal year and more than a month into the new school year, board of education members took some time last week to officially close the books on the 2015- 2016 school year.

Part of the review centered on undesignated fund balance – the money that was approved yet never used. Kate Bolton, the school district’s director of business operations, said typically the undesignated fund balance is between $300,000 and $500,000. Last year’s, however, was $1.9 million.

The surplus and undesignated funds, Bolton said, “will put the town in a good position to weather the storm of state aid to education.”

Most of the undesignated fund balance is due to a decrease in debt services, thanks in part to $2.6 million in money leftover from the Wentworth School project.

Since money bonded for the Wentworth project can only be used for that purpose, and not used for general educational spending, town leaders decided to use the money leftover from the construction project to lower the debt accrued. Close to $1.4 million was used in fiscal year 2016 and a little more than $1.2 million was used for the current budget year, which runs through July.

One of areas where 2015-2016 spending came under budget, Bolton said was in special education instruction, which saw a $240,000 in special services tuition because Scarborough didn’t have to send as many students to outside schools.

“Students that were getting services at private schools have been able to come back into our schools,” Bolton said.

Bolton said the district was also able to achieve $100,000 in savings due to lower energy use and fuel prices. The transportation budget was also underspent by $100,000. That, however, was not by choice. The transportation saving were due to short staffing, particularly with substitute bus drivers.

Just as there were accounts that were underspent, there were ones that were overspent. According to school board policy, school board members need to approve budget transfer to cover deficits in spending of more than $10,000. The superintendent has authority to approve transfers of less than $10,000.

The overages were offset by surplus in other budget lines, most of which were in the same voter-approved categories. Those categories include regular instruction; special education instruction; career and technical education instruction; co-curricular and extra-curricular; student and support staff; system administration; school administration; transportation and buses; facilities management; debt services and other expenditures.

Bolton said nine of the district’s 624 budget accounts came in over budget.

“That shows me, we were fairly accurate in our budget estimations,” she said.

Some of the budget overrides, Bolton explained, were due to staff turnover ($85,877), as well as bus maintenance and repairs ($10,254) and increased costs for custodians and contracted repairs and maintenance at Wentworth School ($42,403).

Although the school nutrition program cut expenditures last school year, the program again ended the year in the red by $237,065 because of lesser than projected food sales revenue and reimbursements from the United States Department of Agriculture and Maine Department of Education.

The increase in bus maintenance and repairs, she said, was due to costly, but necessary repairs and was offset by the savings from reduced fuel price.

The Wentworth custodial costs were based on estimates, but Bolton said those estimates were off due, in part, to all the community uses the school hosts after hours.

“We are still learning more about Wentworth School and adjusted our estimates in the FY 17 budget we are currently operating with,” Bolton said.

Finances for the 2015-2016 school year will officially be closed by year’s end. Auditors from Macpage will meet with school officials to go over the year-end numbers in mid-November and will provide a report on their findings by late December. Bolton said in a note to board members she didn’t “anticipate any significant changes” as a result of the audit.

Board members had little comment on Bolton’s year-end financial report other than a conversation about better funding the school nutrition program.

Vice Chairman Kelly Murphy did note however for the first time in recent memory the student athletics/activity fee account didn’t run a deficit. The account took in $1,218 more than anticipated.

“I know that’s not a lot of money overall, but when I looked at it, I thought ‘that’s a milestone,’” Murphy said.

Bolton said the account meeting the mark may have to do with students and parents now being accustomed to paying for sports and activities and an improvement in the athletic department’s payment and tracking system.

Aside from review fiscal year 2016 year-end financials, the board also approved a new three-year teacher contract with the Scarborough Education Association.

The contract runs through June 2019 and is retroactive to this summer when the previous one expired. Included in the contract is six additional hours of professional development, as well as cost of living adjustments of .5 percent in 2016-2017, 1.5 percent in 2017-2018 and 3 percent in 2018-2019. Jackie Perry, chairman of the school board’s negotiation committee, said the goal of the committee’s negotiation was to retain teachers and be competitive with other school districts in terms of how teachers are compensated.

Teachers, as it was pointed out at the meeting, tend to leave the district after six to eight years because at that point they can be better compensated at other school districts.

“If we want to attract and retain good teachers, loyalty can only go so far,” said Murphy, a member of the negotiations committee.

The contact stipulates the school district will pay 80 percent of an employee’s health insurance. Perry said Scarborough was one of the first school districts that mandated many years ago that employees pay a portion of their health insurance.

Additional information about the contract is expected at the board’s next meeting. Board Chairman Donna Beeley has asked Superintendent Julie Kukenberger to provide details about how the new contract will impact the fiscal 2018 budget, which board members will dissect this spring after it is presented most likely in early April.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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