School district's fund balance still flush

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The Moffat County School District has been dipping into its fund balance in recent years but the trend isn't severe enough to cause budgetary waves, said district financial officer Mike Brinks.

District officials originally predicted a $700,000 drop in the carryover of funds from the current year to the 2004-05 fiscal year. But they were pleasantly surprised to learn recently that the fund decrease would only be half of that, or nearly $350,000.

The district received more federal dollars than it anticipated for its special education programs and received a larger-than-expected chunk of state funds.

The district reported an ending fund balance of a little more than $6.8 million for the 2002-03 year, but expects to end this year with a balance under $6.5 million.

The district's fiscal year starts July 1.

"We are looking a little better than we thought," said Superintendent Pete Bergmann about the unanticipated funds. "Right now we don't have to borrow money from the state to maintain operations. I'm willing to bet that 50 to 70 percent of (Colorado) school districts will be doing that."

As Bergmann expressed cautious optimism heading into the next budgetary cycle, he cited some concerns district officials plan to keep in check.

Some of those issues include maintaining a healthy student-to-teacher ratio and keeping teacher's aid positions.

Parents and the community can offer suggestions on the district's budget planning process through regular Parent Accountability Committee (PAC) meetings in February and March.

Soon after, each district school will prepare its budget and present it to the Board of Education to justify budgetary requests. School board members are given the adjusted recommendations and are responsible for adopting a final version by June 30.

Part of the reason behind the district's rosy budget outlook stems from a 1.9 mill-levy override that voters approved in 1999, Bergmann said.

That money goes toward increasing the district's technology needs.

But the district's multimillion-dollar balance can be misleading. It relies on the county's property tax revenue -- among other funding sources -- to maintain operations. For example, this year the district took a hit of nearly $100,000 from its collection of property taxes. It won't be reimbursed for those funds until the next fiscal year.

"We get property taxes in a big bundle a couple times a year," Bergmann said. To cover expenses, the district pulls from its fund balance and credits it later.

"If we didn't have a large fund balance we'd probably have to borrow from the state," he added.

District officials are also acutely aware of declining enrollment at Moffat County Schools and the district's last-place position on the state funding "floor."

The district is reimbursed $5,511 for each student, which is lowest legal amount of state contribution.

Other factors affecting district funds in upcoming years may depend on the future of Amendment 23. The law funds school districts to the tune of inflation plus 1 percent each year. Though the law is popular among the state's K-12 schools, it's surrounded with controversy as opponents claim it's partially responsible for the state's increasing budget crunch. Talk has already begun in legislative circles on changing the law.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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