Supervisory union business manager Karen Atwood warned board members that the end-of-fiscal-year wrap-up of the district’s financial information was underway, and things weren’t looking good. She predicted that the district would end the year with a deficit.
Late last year, and again early this year, Atwood warned board members that the district was facing a financial squeeze. According to superintendent Richard McClements, the problem wasn’t over-budget spending, it was because of tuition revenue that was below that anticipated in the budget. The board asked administrators to curtail spending, but left it to them to decide which purchases were too crucial to put off until July 1, when the new budget period would begin.
“Did the (spending) freeze work?” asked board member Adam Grinold at Tuesday evening’s meeting.
“Absolutely not,” said Atwood. “The freeze didn’t stop Bob (Morse, former Twin Valley High School principal) at all. The purchase orders kept coming through.”
Grinold asked if the deficit spending could be “recouped” by not spending the money this year. “If people were spending in June just to spend it, as you seem to be suggesting, can we make sure we don’t spend it this year? We’ve got to repair the hole in last year’s budget out of this year’s budget.”
“People weren’t going out and spending thousands of dollars,” Atwood said. “And there were things that weren’t in the budget that had to be paid, like teachers’ mileage for driving between schools. That was in the (latest teachers’ contract) and had to be paid. Unfortunately, Bob was a big one for sending over things that he had to have, things that were broken and had to fix, or he was out of toner and had to buy it.”
Atwood said there were other purchases that couldn’t be justified, and she was able to reject them. “People weren’t happy, but they were for things that weren’t absolutely necessary.”
Atwood said she would be able to give board members a preliminary figure for the budget shortfall soon, but the amount wouldn’t be official until the books had been professionally audited.
In other fiscal matters, board member Phil Taylor said construction at Twin Valley Middle/High School was on track and on budget. “We’ve gone through various scenarios, and it looks like there’s no way we’re not going to have the school building completed by the time school starts.”
The projected completion of the gymnasium, noted board member Aimee Reed, is still about two weeks behind the rest of the building. The main holdup, she said, is the installation of the wood floor, which must be done under optimum climatic conditions.
Taylor said the building would be occupied in stages over the summer, as soon as they get the go-ahead from inspectors. “We should be getting into the administration wing fairly soon,” he said. “We’re already moving things in, but we’re waiting for life-safety to tell us when we can start partial occupancy. The idea is that (the builders) will start handing over big chunks of the building as they’re completed.”
So far, Taylor told board members, the construction budget is on track, and one of the biggest variables in cost, asbestos removal, came in right on budget. “So far, I haven’t heard about anything that would draw down the contingency fund,” he said. Whatever is left in the fund will be used to pay for construction options or other purchases for the building that have been on hold until the finances are more solid.
Taylor said he wanted to take a new look at the installation of interactive SmartBoards with the school’s new principal, Tom Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald said SmartBoards fell out of favor at one of the schools he was at, because of certain limitations. “We went to ENO Boards,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re a metal, enameled board you can use as a whiteboard as well. And, with heavy use, you’ll start to find bad spots on the SmartBoards, whereas you don’t on the ENO Boards. They ended up being a little cheaper, too.”
The board also considered a lunch program student account balance policy. According to Twin Valley Food Service Director Lonny Paige, if the district doesn’t have an approved policy, there’s no way to recoup money students may owe the program.
Paige said he studied policies from several different schools before recommending his. Under the proposed policy, there would be no limit on the balance for elementary school students. “A kid in elementary school will be able to run a balance as high as they want – we’ll always feed those kids,” he said.
Middle school students would be cut off from the regular hot lunch program if their balance reached $50, but Paige said the cafeteria would still give them a sandwich and milk. In high school, students wouldn’t be able to have any account balance – all lunches would have to be paid for. “And if you start the year with a negative balance, no lunch,” Paige said.
“Whoa, what do I owe you?” Grinold joked.
Fitzgerald said that $50 seemed like a lot of credit to extend. “We never let it get above $20,” he said. “Nobody likes doing it, but after you send notes home and make a phone call, the first time they get a sandwich, they’ll usually do something about it.”
Board member Kathy Larsen said that tracking each student’s balance, contacting parents, and collecting the balance would add significant work to the school secretary’s workload. “That would be an inordinate amount of work for the secretary to keep up with,” she said.
Paige said one of the keys to alleviating the problem would be to get everyone who is eligible for free and reduced lunch signed up for the program. Board members asked how the problem of lunch balance affected the bottom line of the school’s program. “We have accounts receivable approaching $1,000 this year at the high school,” Paige said.
“I have a hard time with the idea of withholding food because we end up $1,000 short,” said board member John Doty.
“I disagree a bit,” said Reed. “There has to be some parental responsibility. I make sure I’m in the black at the end of the year.”
“I just think there are other ways,” said Doty.
Board members voted to approve the first reading of the policy, with the understanding that changes would be made by administrators and the board’s policy committee before a final reading will be approved.