Accounting questioned regarding Moffat County School District’s budget | CraigDailyPress.com

Accounting questioned regarding Moffat County School District’s budget

Community asking questions about the sudden $800k surplus from last year’s budget

Moffat County School District budgets from 2012 to 2017 sit next to research to the Colorado Office of the State Auditor's Fiscal Health Analysis for the years 2013 to 2015. MCSD's recent announcement regarding a $800,000 surplus has Craig community members confused about the details of the districts finances.

— Instead of ending with a deficit, Moffat County School District reported an $800,000 surplus to the school board during their August meeting and that has people wondering.

"I was dumbfounded when I learned about it. That's a huge amount of money no matter the size of the business. How did you guys fandangle $800,000 at the 11th hour?" asked Chris Thome, who is a parent that participated in the community stakeholder process held earlier this year.

Timeline

Feb. 25, 2016 – District projects a budget gap of $1,762,000.

March 3, 2016 – The district faces a budget challenge of about $2.36 million for the coming year.

March 24, 2016 – Stakeholders recommend a number of possibilities for budget.

April 21, 2016 – Moffat County School District Board of Education members voiced reservations about pursuing a mill levy override in 2016, with several expressing the willingness to pursue such a measure in 2017.

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Spring 2016 – Five stakeholder meetings are convened to allow parents, students, teachers, staff and the community to weigh in on budget conversations.

June 9 – School board approves 2016-17 budget general fund budget of $19.8 million in the coming school year, with deficit spending of $212,000 after cutting four teachers and six classified staff including four health techs but did not include top recommendations made through the community stakeholder process.

Aug. 25 – School district announces an $800,000 surplus from the 2015-16 school year, approves spending of $283,832 to provide raises and $62,214 to add back two health techs.

He was not the only one caught by surprise.

"I'm surprised. It is very unexpected," said parent Stacee Garcia, whose brother is a teacher for the district.

It isn’t the first year the school district has ended with a surplus. There have been differences between the projected budget to the actual budget of between 3 to 5 percent. It is difficult to determine if the variance is within acceptable limits.

"Colorado is a local control state, so the state wouldn't have any place to say how districts spend their money," said Jennifer Okes, director of the school finance division for Colorado Department of Education.

Districts determine budget projections during their budgeting process that happen prior to the school year. It isn't until the end of the financial year that all actual figures are known.

According to MCSD Executive Director of Finance and Operations Tinneal Gerber, that accounts for the seeming suddenness of the surplus.

The district, an independent auditor, the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Office of the State Auditor, review the year-end budget once actual revenues and expenditures have been finalized at the end of the fiscal year.

In the past seven years the school district has missed two benchmarks during the audit and, while this warranted notification by the state auditor's office, it did not result in further action, according to Gina Faulkner, a legislative audit supervisor for state auditor.

According to Faulkner the school district and the board of education are ultimately responsible for the management of the school district; therefore, it is up to individual school boards to determine the amount of variance that is acceptable.

Darryl Steele is the treasurer for the school board. He said his role "is pretty simple.”

“I rely on the information provided me and basically relay that information onto the board,” he said. “Tinneal Gerber provides all the information that goes to the board and our monthly meetings. Through this last year I have asked her to keep us appraised on a monthly basis."

Thome asked why was the board unaware of the surplus if members were receiving accurate monthly reports.

"The school board should be demanding the financials so that they can make the best decisions for the community," Thome said.

Steele's explanation is that "a fair amount was projected to have been spent” under current superintendent David Ulrich and his interim predecessor Morris Ververs.

“They have instituted good fiscal policy to the staff and the staff have responded well and not spent some of the money they could have,” Steele said.

That answer isn't very satisfying to Thome.

"They have a scapegoat in (former superintendent) Brent Curtice, he didn't run the numbers. That puts the spotlight on Tinneal Gerber. Behind the scenes they knew something was going on and just got the public fed up with them again," Thome said.

Gerber continues to have the confidence of the district and board.

"If I thought for a moment that any of this was done by incompetence, that it was done deliberately, then absolutely we would have those conversations. I could not have a higher confidence level in Tinneal Gerber and that gets reinforced on a daily basis," Ulrich said.

Board member Tony Peroulis was reluctant to comment outside of a board meeting.

"Individual board members should not speak independently,” Peroulis said. “This is board policy."

However, he did say that he "supports Tinneal Gerber fully."

Steele reaffirmed this support.

"When I was a county commissioner, Tinneal Gerber worked as a budget analyst. I had a lot of confidence; I still have a lot of confidence. I think it was higher than that with our past superintendent,” he said.

Gerber has been conservative with her budget projections.

"It is in the best interest of the district to budget conservatively and ensure that we are being good stewards," she said.

Steele believes that the district’s former superintendent of schools, Brent Curtice, played a role.

"In my individual opinion, this is strictly my opinion, I think that Mr. Curtice was working toward asking us for a mill levy override," Steele said.

Superintendent Ulrich does not believe the previous administration deliberately misled the community in an attempt to gain support for a mill levy override.

"There is zero evidence that this was the case,” Ulrich said. “The high transparency level means this would have been reveled and so engaging in those types of practices would be unethical and grounds for dismissal. There is no evidence that anything like that was going on."

Brent Curtice, who is now superintendent of schools for the Garfield County School District, declined to comment.

The budget is in surplus rather than deficit and that's the important fact for Steele.

"I think that we are moving forward in a positive fashion, and I think that with what Ververs relayed to us during his interim and what Dr. Urlich is looking at, we are on a positive forward track," Steele said.

Colorado Department of Education would agree.

"Having a variance, or not, is neither good or bad. How a school district adjusts may be more important," Okes said.

There is concern about how the school board decided to spend about $300,000 of the $800,000 surplus to add back two staff positions and provide modest raises.

"Between them (the school board), Tinneal Gerber and the superintendent, it seemed like a knee-jerk reaction. I was shocked that it was the first thing they decided to do. I would have expected further review," Thome said.

Concerns about the future are still warranted, as Ulrich wants the community to know that ending with a surplus is a sign of good financial stewardship, but it doesn't reflect a windfall. The district still has serious financial challenges.

"The fact is that school finance in the state of Colorado is in a state of uncertainty and with that in mind, we need to approach this with caution," Ulrich said. "We still have over $10 million in facilities’ needs. These are ongoing needs. On paper we will spend more money than we take in revenue, that doesn't change."

Moving forward, the district is committed to doing better for all staff, students and the community.

"My commitment to the board and the community is to have the best, most recent information upon which they can base that information," Ulrich said. We will walk the walk. We will trust in the processes and procedures, and we will be transparent with the board, with the newspaper, whether that news is that we will have less or more than we thought. "

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

Timeline

Feb. 25, 2016 – District projects a budget gap of $1,762,000.

March 3, 2016 – The district faces a budget challenge of about $2.36 million for the coming year.

March 24, 2016 – Stakeholders recommend a number of possibilities for budget.

April 21, 2016 – Moffat County School District Board of Education members voiced reservations about pursuing a mill levy override in 2016, with several expressing the willingness to pursue such a measure in 2017.

Spring 2016 – Five stakeholder meetings are convened to allow parents, students, teachers, staff and the community to weigh in on budget conversations.

June 9 – School board approves 2016-17 budget general fund budget of $19.8 million in the coming school year, with deficit spending of $212,000 after cutting four teachers and six classified staff including four health techs but did not include top recommendations made through the community stakeholder process.

Aug. 25 – School district announces an $800,000 surplus from the 2015-16 school year, approves spending of $283,832 to provide raises and $62,214 to add back two health techs.