SSISD trustees begin budget workshops

Salaries, increased fees, lower revenues discussed

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

July 29, 2008 - Monday night's special board meeting was devoted primarily to financial matters, specifically approval of a bid for copiers and discussion between Sulphur Springs Independent School District trustees and administrators regarding the 2008-2009 budget.

Advantage Copy Systems, who the school has used for at least 5 years, was awarded the 3-year contract for copier usage and maintenance. Advantage's bid was $232,056 compared to Document Solutions of Tyler's $218,355.84 bid and IKON of Sherman's $275,400 bid. The final deciding factor was the rate of overage for any copies in excess of the 5 million specified in the contract.

Advantage's overage bid matched Document Solution's $0.0065 overage per copy fee, but also included 13 machines with no overage fees. Last year, the district had 1,100,000 copies over the alloted 5 million, with a total extra cost of about $7,400. At that rate, the 13 machines with no overage fees could save the district about $6,000, according to SSISD Director of Finance Miki Eddins.

School trustees and administrators then moved into the budget workshop, with Superintendent Patsy Bolton noting that the 2008-2009 budget likely will be "the most challenging budget we have prepared."

Eddins noted that by challenging Bolton refers to the process of finding funding to keep up with normal operations and programs, as well as those new necessary increases such as fuel costs and areas the board considers priorities, based on current projections. She said that like many districts around, Sulphur Springs will likely have to tighten the belt on spending, possibly putting off all unnecessary projects, to avoid creating a sizable deficit in those areas.

Eddins also explained that the district's federal and state revenues are expected to be less due to: lower daily attendance rates due to fewer students enrolled; state mandated main-streaming of more special education students, which in turn resulted in less special education funding; lower taxes due to appraisal rates coming in lower than those initially projected by the appraisal district; as well as other challenges.

She said that while the current projects aren't as positive as they'd like, this year, like last does show two funds deficit at the recommendation of auditors due what they consider more than enough in the fund balance for that account and recommended spending instead of hoarding in those area. For example, last year the food service budget showed a deficit for the budget. However, funds remaining in that general fund from the 2006-2007 school year were earmarked for repairs and upgrades such as replacing aging equipment in 2007-2008. This year, funding has also been designated to continue with the those upgrades.

Similarly, auditors said the worker's compensation fund also had too much money in it, and recommended slowing down contributions. So, with some claims still going out, the fund in the 2007-2008 budget appeared to be in the red. However, the funding was in the general fund left from a previous year and spent accordingly, Eddins explained.

Discussed was the increase in minimum wage amount for hourly workers paid minimum wage, how that amount is expected to increase again next year, and what it means to the budget. One board member indicated that since those workers generally don't receive the same type of benefits as salaried employees that perhaps that's an area that should be considered, as economic increases in prices hits those groups hard.

The board last year approved in the budget a raise above the step increases for salaried employees and a desire to look at the current budget to see if such a possibility is an option again this year, as the education process would not be possible without these dedicated staff.

The board reviewed a list of new items submitted as requests for the new year, some which will be required as they are mandatory increases such as additional appraisal fees.

The addition of One Act Play at the middle school level was also discusses. Administrators voted on the matter at a recent meeting with other schools within the district they'd compete in. Local officials' vote was overruled by those in favor of adding it at the middle school level. The additional fees to be paid to UIL, costs associated with putting on the play as well as travel and teachers to act as sponsors for the event were discussed as reasons to not offer that at the middle school level at SSISD this year. However, if Sulphur Springs Middle School students don't participate in the One Act play that'll be points they won't be able to amass toward the district title in UIL competition.

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