SSISD budget picture looks better than first thought
By FAITH HUFFMAN,News-Telegram News Editor
August 14, 2008 - A new state finance template and diligent work on the part of department heads has budgetary figures looking good for Sulphur Springs Independent School District this week compared to those presented in the first budget workshop July 28.
The improved outlook also means the district is not expected to have to face a tax rollback election.
Previously, revenues in some of the main fund categories were projected to be much lower than expenditures. However, the state adjustment, plus district officials' hard work in absorbing some costs and cutting some "unnecessary requests," helped in creating what is projected to be a balanced budget this year, according to SSISD Finance Director Miki Eddins.
"The state did release a new template for how we figure the budget," Eddins said. "It did adjust local and state aid back and forth a little bit, to our benefit.
"We were looking at a $500,000 deficit," SSISD School Board Vice President Clay Johnson noted at Monday's board meeting. "Today we're $50,000 to the positive, so that's good."
One element in the improved monetary pictures is the revised state funding template, although Eddins said that, at first glance, it appeared the template would do more harm than good.
"But on closer look, as the local [revenue] goes down, the state [funding] goes up," Eddins said. "When state funding is down, local effort is up. It did give us a little bit different revenue."
Top administrators and the finance department also went over the proposed budget and requests line by line, looking for areas where funding was available but not used in the past which could possibly be re-appropriated. The physical plant operations and transportation departments were especially helpful, finding areas that could be trimmed in those budgets, officials said.
For example, transportation director Larry Finney said that after evaluating the bus fleet he felt the district wouldn't be hurt if a year was skipped in replacing older buses. The district put in place a few years ago a plan by which a few new buses are added to the fleet each year, replacing a certain number of aging buses so that all buses provide reliable transportation. Finney indicated the district should be OK with the buses it currently has.
Superintendent Patsy Bolton also praised Eddins, saying "Miki has done a fantastic job."
"Also, we want to credit these people who have gone back and squeezed every way they can," Bolton said. "If there's an emergency, we have no money in the maintenance budget. Dale [Guest, SSISD director of plant operations] has taken care of that."
Another area where expenses are expected to decrease is electricity. While the district can't control cost increases, officials anticipate an overall reduced bill as the old Houston School campus, now owned by the Boys & Girls Club, will no longer be a district expense. The alternative school formerly located at Houston has been moved into the renovated area on the top floor of the administration building.
Also, school trustees this week during a special budget work session discussed raising the pay scale for substitute teachers from $50 a day to $55 a day, which averages out "a little over minimum wage per day."
The possibility of a one-time stipend for certain staff was discussed. Trustees noted that a one-time pay stipend awarded in previous years was well received, and worth looking into as a viable incentive for staff this year, but would have to be factored in after other budget decisions were made.
Funding for a potential one-time stipend would come from the general fund balance -- money left over after all expenses for the year have been paid -- which is anticipated to be between $4 million and 4.5 million, a healthy amount and enough to fund at least 2-2 1/2 months operations, if necessary.
The district is also expected to leave the tax rate essentially unchanged, meaning the district would not have to face a rollback election.
Eddins said that the idea of a rollback rate was entertained but after school officials talked to several individuals, and after the adjustments in the template, administrators felt the district should be OK and did not recommend seeking a rollback property tax rate.
However, the finance director did note that it could become necessary in future years if school finance assistance does not improve.
Tax official Judy Gregg also noted that another negative would have been a few months' delays in tax collections because schools calling for a rollback are unable to send out tax bills until the matter is voted on.
One arear which could prove financially advantageous to the district is participation in Chapter 41 program, previously known as the Robin Hood plan, which involves selling of WADA (weighted average daily attendance) credits to certain other larger school districts at an accelerated rate.
"It could be very beneficial to us," Eddins said.
School finance officials will make adjustments based on trustees' requests and guidance at previous meetings, then present the budget and tax rate for trustees' approval at a future meeting. The next scheduled budget workshop is Aug. 25, the day students return to class.