District says savings may buffer enrollment drop
Haines Borough School District will carry over a $562,000 fund balance into the next year, superintendent Michael Byer told the school at a meeting June 28. The money is a safeguard that could help buffer the district if projections of a 10 percent drop in district enrollment are realized, Byer told the board.
In other action, the board:
· Approved an allowance of up to $65 per month for employees whose jobs require them to carry cellular phones;
· Approved seeking bids for a 15-passenger activities bus;
· Approved spending $12,960 for site licensing for Fast ForWord, a computer-based reading program currently in use at the school; and,
· Approved spending $15,000 for a heating system in the new school garage.
The budget’s $562,000 carryover, equivalent to 10 percent of annual district expenditures, is the largest allowed under state law and about $11,000 more than the fund balance a year ago. It is partly the result of three, unanticipated sources of federal funding that amounted to $420,000 over two years, said superintendent Michael Byer.
They included money from a federal education jobs bill and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Byer said.
The district has based its request to the state for next year’s funding on an anticipated enrollment of 288 students, a considerable drop from 307 students who started school here last fall.
But the district now says the number may drop as low as 275 students. Projected enrollment is determined by district secretary Ashley Sage and school secretary Tiana Taylor, Byer said. It’s based on their knowledge of families arriving and leaving town.
“In the past years, we came in higher (than projected enrollment) but this year it could be a little less,” Byer told the school board at a meeting Thursday. “I know people say (we) project low, but if Ashley and Tiana don’t know, who knows? That’s the quandary we find ourselves in.”
A new, “hold harmless” provision in state education funding that provides a multi-year buffer for districts when a district loses 5 percent or more of enrollment may “keep us afloat,” Byer said, but he said he might also look to the fund balance.
“We would dip into it to pay salaries if enrollment goes down. It’s a cushion that can help soften expenditures in subsequent years,” Byer said. The district didn’t dip into fund balance at all this year (June 2011’s balance was $551,205) but Byer said he expected to tap the fund next year.
In an interview this week, Taylor said coming-year enrollment estimates skew downward because it’s not always possible to know who’s moving into town, particularly transient families or ones who arrive here on a whim. “We know the people who are leaving, but I can’t say who in the world is moving to Haines,” she said.
At last week’s meeting, the board also approved a cell-phone allowance of either $25 per month or $65 per month for five district employees whose jobs require them to be available during non-work hours, including the superintendent, principal, vice-principal, activities director and a school maintenance person. “The district feels these personnel should be accessible most of the time,” Byer wrote the board.
The district previously provided the phones and paid $200 per month for four employees to carry them, plus the cost of the phones. Byer said that arrangement worked only if phones were used exclusively for school business. When they’re also used for personal calls, the school’s funding of them is considered employee compensation by the IRS and subject to taxation and withholding.
“This gets messy when trying to determine what fraction of the phone use is official and what is personal. In order to avoid this situation, a person would have to carry around two phones,” Byer wrote the board. “To deal with this issue, organizations have gone to paying an allowance to the people they want to have phones.”
Byer said the switch would reduce cell phone cost to the district by one-third, at the least.
The activities bus, expected to cost up to $70,000, is necessary because large vans, like a green one the school owns, are no longer considered safe for more than 10 people. “We’d like to have one we could put more occupants in,” Byer said in an interview.
The new vehicle will be used for school trips to Juneau and Anchorage and for taking groups around town or for trips to the ferry terminal, Byer said. Funding for it will come from a fund balance of $127,812 in the district’s pupil transportation fund. It cannot be used for taking students between school and home, he said.
Under a new policy started this year, the district no longer sends a single vehicle to Anchorage during winter. An all-wheel drive, white, school van will accompany the 15-passenger bus on such trips, Byer said.
The district currently spends more than $5,000 annually for “FastForWord,” a computer program the district says improves reading skills. Spending $12,960 more will allow the program to accommodate 75 students. Byer said at least 62 students will need the program next year.
The change will qualify the district for a “perpetual site license” and allow it to add an unlimited number of additional students, Byer said.
The board also approved spending a maximum of $15,000 from its facilities and equipment fund for a heating system for its new garage. A recent reorganization of classrooms is prompting the change, according to Byer. The garage was built for in-floor heat and the district will seek a contract to install a boiler heating system greater than 60,000 BTU, according to the district.