Annual audit reveals SSISD  finances to be in ‘good shape’

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram Education Reporter

Dec 23, 2007 - Sulphur Springs Independent School District is in good shape financially, Mike Taylor noted early this month when discussing with school trustees the annual audit and financial compliance report his firm compiled.

�I�m very pleased to be able to report we�re in very good financial shape,� Superintendent Patsy Bolton said.

Mike Taylor of Taylor, Rutherford and and Company, P.C., said that despite budgeting for two large projects — the 53 acre land purchase and budgeted track project —  as well as budgeting for the 403(b) plan, the district still had a good fund balance, Bolton said of Taylor’s discussion with the board earlier this month.

Ideally, Taylor explained to the board, districts should maintain a fund balance large enough to continue regular operations for three to four months, “in the event something were to happen and state funding stops for a period of time.” While keeping ahead, it’s also recommended that the fund balance not be too large.

Bolton said that budgeting for the projects in the fund balance helped avoid pricey interest on repayment amounts.

�We have the money to pay for it. We�re not having to pay interest on it. Those two and the 401(a), we put money in the budget this year, in the hope of getting the 403(b),� Bolton said.

She added that while funding was designated in the current budget for the 403 b, in the hope that everything would fall into place so that it could be offered this year, an administrator wasn’t approved until the December board meeting.

�We hope to encourage our employees to ... set one up and use it to supplement their retirement,� Bolton said.

She also noted that the district hopes to use it as a recruitment tool and benefit for highly qualified teachers to become and remain employed with the district. 

They approved Great American Plan Administrators as the third party administrator to over see the program should an employee choose to enroll in one. The district opted to have a third party administrator, bid by Region VIII through TIPS, monitor the program due to regulations.

Of the district’s 119 employees, 42 already have the 403b retirement plans with companies. In the past, the district has only checked to make sure the vendor is on the Teacher Retirment System approved list.

Since the new regulations effective Sept. 24 require the district to monitor any currently 403b plans, “including rolling money, transferring of assets and taking a loan against.” They also have to notify participating employees that any change to their accounts might pose a taxable penalty for them, SSISD investment officer Miki Eddins noted  in a letter to the superintendent.

In January 2009, district will have in place a “plan document” for all 403b contribution and must have an information sharing agreement with each company.

To avoid having to do the monitoring of each person’s individual company, i.e. 42 companies for 42 different people, Great American was hired as a third-party administrator. 

Greater American will also ensure compliance on any new regulations, include a $1 million liability coverage per participant if something happens and the district if found by the IRS not in compliance, provide the district plan document.

�They�ll make sure we do everything we need to be doing. This is just part of the benefits package we�re hoping to offer our employees. The next thing we�ll work on will be the 401a plan where the school district contributes a certain amount for any employee participating in 403b plan,� Bolton said.

Also, during the December board meeting, SSISD trustees also approved a resolution allowing the district to tax goods-in-transit. This too was a motion following recent regulation changes

�We�re not sure if there are any goods that qualify for it. If not, we�ll pass and won�t be able to use it. If there is some industry that�s taxable, we can apply it. That�s not saying we�re going to go out to industries and look for it,� Bolton said.�

House Bill 621 added to Section 11.253 of Texas Property Code, a measure that grand an exemption for property taxation for certain “goods-in-transit personal property.”

School officials also presented to board members their annual report on special programs, which currently provides $8.365 million in additional funding.

The $6,994,463 in state and federal funding included: $2,911,706 for the special education program, $1,042,410 for career and technology education for vocational courses complementer by work-study programs, $982,681 in Title I funds for reading improvements including staffing and materials, $1,443,297 state compensatory funds to support programs and services to improve and enhance regular education programs for at-risk students who are educationally disadvantaged, $241,078 Teacher and Principal Training and Recruiting Fund (TPTR) to recruit and keep highly qualified staff and reduce class size, $80,014 for the gifted and talented program, $103,284 for bilingual/English as a second language classes, $10,746 for migrant education to provide computers and software to assist migrant students, $16,270 optional extended year program to help at-risk students after school and during the summer to attain grade level competencies, $16,195 Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities to provide services along with security equipment and materials to encourage healthy choices, $11,466 Title II, Part D, technology to improve academic achievement through use of technology, $5,995 innovative education funds to enhance services to identified gifted and talented students, $40,623 Title III ESL Recent Immigrant Initiative to assist with service to recent immigrants with limited English proficiency, $12,588 pregnancy related services, and $76,099 ARI/AMI for accelerated reading and math funds based on TAKS failures in grades 3-6.

The $1.37 million from competitive grants includes:

  • Two 21st Century grants — a  $280,00 grant for after school enrichment activities through SSPARKS After-School Program at the Boys & Girls Club and Douglas Intermediate School for kindergarten through fifth grade students; a $150,000 grant for after-school and summer enrichment programs such as the EXTREME program at the middle school
  • $200,000 Even Start grant for three family literacy initiatives that address adult education, ESL and/or GED services and parent education opportunities for parents with child ages 0-7 years.
  • $250,000 Texas Early Education Model for a collaborative program with Como-Pickton and Cumby school districts for school readiness
  • $194,701 Secure Our Schools to provide keyless entry locks and name badges
  • $100,000 Investment Capital Funds Grant for literacy center at Austin and Bowie Elementary schools
  • $82,548 pre-kindergarten grant to provide a full day instead of a half day program
  • $50,000 Investment Capitol grant to work on reading comprehension, strengthen parent participation, and provide professional development at Lamar Elementary
  • $23,000 Preschool Least Restrictive Environment grant to help train Early Childhood Learning Center teachers on ways to individualize student instruction.
  • $36,928 STARS of Texas Grant for service learning
  • $3,500 Tobacco Compliance Grant to assist on-campus law enforcement with compliance related activities regarding smoking or using tobacco products on or off school property.

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