2014-07-03 / Front Page

Schools nix pay-to-play, OK ‘cautious’ budget

BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com

SWARTZ CREEK – The Board of Education has approved a tentative 2014-15 budget that could send the district back to the fund equity well again.

“These are cautious assumptions,” said Jon Pechette, assistant superintendent for business.

With much of the revenue and costs to be determined, the budget is fraught with conservative estimates that are likely to be amended as final tallies become known, said Pechette.

“There are always variables that hang out there,” said Superintendent Dr. Jeff Hall. “It’s very challenging.”

If the numbers remain unchanged, the district will have to take about $403,000 from its roughly $800,000 fund balance.

After a slight boost from the 2012-13 budget, the district’s reserves took a $400,000 hit last year.

“The fund equity is falling again,” said Trustee Ken Engel. “That’s a big concern.”

Hall agreed that the fund balance is “very concerning,” but he indicated that there’s no reason to panic.

“We’ll need to stabilize it in the future,” he said. “In the future, without more funding, we are going to have to make some difficult choices.”

“I hope one of the choices is not another war with the teachers,” Engel said, referring to a bitter, 20-month contract dispute that ended in November. “That was unhealthy for all of us.”

Pechette cautioned that he expects the next few months to bring many changes that will expenditures in line with revenues.

Among the highlights of the new budget are:

• The elimination of pay-to-play fees.

The $75 per-player, per-sport charge, which was waived for athletes who qualified for free and reduced lunches, generated $34,850 last year.

By eliminating the fee, school officials hope to attract more students, translating to more per-pupil state funding.

“It’s about creating opportunities and eliminating obstacles for all students,” said Hall.

• An additional $277,900 in performance based state funding. Improved test scores put Swartz Creek in line for another $70 per pupil, the second highest award in the county. The maximum was $100 per pupil, which went to Goodrich.

• An estimated $175 per pupil increase in the state’s Foundation Allowance, which would bring in about $694,750 more in per-pupil funding over last year.

• An estimated decrease in the student population of 20, costing the district about $140,000 in state aid.

• The loss of $207,460, or $52 per pupil, in “Best Practices” incentives from the state. The incentives are awarded to districts that meet four of five financial benchmarks. Administrators continue to work on qualifying the district, but to be safe, the income was not included in the budget.

• A $268,000 expense for four new buses, up from $190,275 spent on vehicles last year; $395,000 for technology, up $87,000 from $308,000 last year; and $72,000 for Middle School math, which Hall said was in dire need of an upgrade.

• An increase of $110,000 in health care costs.

“We are looking for ways to cut costs,” said Pechette. “We have to be cautious and look for areas to improve the financial status of the district. It’s hard to right the ship overnight.”

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