Moffat County School District on track to erase $340K deficit

Finance director: Long-range view is more uncertain

At a glance:

• Moffat County School District forecasted to have more revenue and fewer expenses in fiscal year 2012 than originally budgeted.

• Additional revenue, including mineral funds, and reduced personnel costs are expected to erase a projected $340,000 deficit budgeted for 2012.

• The long-range trend is less optimistic, with the district’s student count and state funding steadily decreasing.

By the numbers:

• $230,000: Increase between budgeted and forecasted general fund revenue for the Moffat County School District in fiscal year 2012.

• $110,000: Decrease between budgeted and forecasted general fund expenses for the school district in fiscal year 2012.

Quotable:

“It’s good that we saw a little extra revenue, and it’s good that our expenses are a little less than what we thought.”

— Mark Rydberg, Moffat County School District finance director, on the district’s fiscal year 2012 financial picture.

The Moffat County School District’s financial situation is looking brighter than it did eight months ago.

In June 2011, school district finance director Mark Rydberg unveiled proposed changes to what was then a draft 2012 fiscal year budget that introduced $340,000 in deficit spending.

The quarterly general fund report he recently gave to Moffat County School Board members, however, painted a more promising picture.

Projected mineral revenues came in at nearly $346,000 more than budgeted. The unbudgeted windfall more than made up for the $170,000 less the district is expected to receive in total program funds, or the number of students multiplied by how much the state gives the district per student.

The other side of the school district’s balance sheet also told a brighter story.

The district is projected to spend $110,000 less than it budgeted for this fiscal year, due largely to teacher attrition.

“More experienced, higher-paid teachers leave, (and) almost inevitably, we hire somebody with less experience and therefore less pay,” Rydberg said.

The increased revenue and lower expenses combined to erase the budgeted $340,000 deficit.

“It’s good that we saw a little extra revenue, and it’s good that our expenses are a little less than what we thought,” Rydberg said.

A balanced budget is one bright spot in an otherwise dismal financial picture.

Student count, coupled with per-pupil funding from the state, determine 75 percent of the district’s budget, Rydberg said.

Moffat County, he said, is hurting in both areas.

The school district’s student count has decreased by more than 4 percent each year for two consecutive years, he said.

At the same time, the amount the state pays per student has steadily shrunk.

“Those two factors together are not advantageous for the school district,” Rydberg said.

Moffat County School District — along with all other school districts in Colorado — also have to contend with the “negative factor,” he said, or the difference between money the state was initially required to give schools and what it can afford to give them now.

The Public School Finance Act of 1994 sets out a formula to determine how much money the state is required to give to school districts.

After the state fell on hard financial times, the legislature passed a measure that permits the state to give districts less than that amount if there’s not enough money in state coffers.

The negative factor has grown in recent years.

Currently, Moffat County is receiving about $2 million less in state funds than what it should per the Finance Act, Rydberg said.

“We hope economic conditions in this state get better so that … the state can meet its obligations,” he said.

But the prospects for that are unlikely. The negative factor is projected to increase next year, he said.

Superintendent Joe Petrone isn’t waiting for an influx of revenue anytime soon.

When district administrators begin crafting the 2012-13 fiscal year budget this spring, they’ll be operating under the assumption that the school district will have less state funding than it does now, he said.

“We don’t want to alarm anyone,” he said, “but we don’t want to send the message that we’re not concerned.”

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