Making ends meet

School district officials to look at preliminary budget for 2009

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At a glance

• According to a preliminary budget, The Moffat County School District currently is projected to have a $105,000 deficit during the 2009 fiscal year.

• The district's expenses are increasing at a faster rate than its revenue sources, Finance Director Mark Rydberg said.

• The district's administrative team, made up of school principals and department heads, will meet in coming months to balance the budget.

• The school board has no intentions of asking taxpayers for additional funding, Rydberg said.

— From where he sits in the Moffat County School District's administration building, Finance Director Mark Rydberg said he sees the district at a crossroads.

A preliminary budget he presented to the School Board last week explains why.

Rydberg stressed that the budget's numbers still are estimates. A finalized budget is scheduled for completion in June, he said.

Still, the projected amounts help tell a story about the district's financial past and its possible future.

The district's projected revenue for the 2009 fiscal year adds up to about $18.4 million, according to the preliminary budget. Yet, in the next column, the district's projected expenses for that period top out at about $18.755 million.

Add in a projected $250,000 surplus from this year, and the deficit decreases somewhat. Still, that leaves $105,000 the district must secure, either in added revenue or decreased costs, to balance its budget.

It's a situation Rydberg doesn't see changing anytime soon.

"We're going to be this way from now on," he said. "We're always going to be struggling to balance the budget.

"That's the crossroads the school district is at."

The road to that juncture leads back to more than 10 years ago, when voters approved to devote $1.9 million in property tax revenue to the district annually.

The added funds helped the district keep ahead of its expenses for about eight years, Rydberg said, adding that the school district saved the surplus revenue it collected during that period.

But, recently, the dollar amount going out of the district has been increasing at a faster pace than the dollars coming in, he said - a change he attributed to rising fuel and employee health care costs, among other expenses.

The school funding formula is based primarily on inflation rates and per-pupil funding, which Rydberg predicts will not be able to keep pace with rising expenses.

"Until we get some kind of fundamental change," he said, either in the funding formula or student enrollment, "we're at the point : where we have more expenses - or needs - (than) revenue," he said.

The School Board has no intentions of asking taxpayers for more money.

"This board feels it's gone out to the community enough," Rydberg said, referring to the $29.5 million bond issue voters approved in November 2007. "We're going to live within our means."

Which road can the school district take at this juncture?

The district's administrative team is scheduled to meet in the coming months to address that question.

The group includes Moffat County school principals and district officials, such as Superintendent Pete Bergmann, Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan and Student Services Director Christine Villard.

The group usually meets monthly to discuss various services, including district curriculum and policies.

During and between its April 10 and May 1 meetings, the group will discuss the preliminary budget.

By the School Board's May 23 meeting, district officials could make most of their decisions about which school programs will stay and which will be cut, if any, Rydberg said.

Rydberg said he believes that, after program cuts from last year, not many expense changes are in order for next year.

Instead, the district's focus this year, regarding both its programs and its funding, can be summed up in one word.

"Sustainability," he said.

Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com

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