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As fund balance drops, board sets goals

Goal for 2004: Stay on top of the budget.

Twelve weeks into the new year, the South Whidbey Board of Education adopted a list of goals, one of which targets the most difficult challenge the district faces— ensuring its financial health. This comes as the district is finding that its fund balance — thought to be over half a million dollars less than a year ago — has withered to about $120,000.

During Monday night’s board meeting, the goals were adopted in anticipation of an upcoming budget workshop.

On March 8, board members, administration and staff will gather in a workshop discuss strategies for monitoring and solving the district’s budget troubles, including considering recommendations from a recently completed private audit report. Although getting a handle on the district’s finances is goal No. 3 of three, it is the most important to the five-member board. The Moss Adams report portrayed the district’s budget as being at high risk in the majority of 59 findings in the report, released just prior to February’s levy vote.

Two questions board president Helen Price Johnson hopes to get answered are why the district’s personnel budget is $100,000 over its budgeted amount, and why there is a projected drop in the distirct’s fund balance for April and May for this year.

These two items showed up on the monthly financial report submitted to the board.

“It seems odd, but I am sure Ben (the district’s business manager) will have those answers for us,” said Price Johnson during a meeting this week.

Thomas, who presents monthly financial reports to the board said he was “curious too and would have those answers at the March workshop.”

Included in Thomas’ report, is a monthly fund balance analysis, balance sheet reports and progress reports on the 2003-04 budget. The fund balance as of Feb. 27 was shown to be $120,000. The fund balance was found to be about $238,000 at the end of the previous school year

To face a possible budget shortage this month, the district may ask for advance on its state allocation to carry the district through the month.

Thomas told board members that option was open to them but “it will impact us at the end.” Last year, the district cut off spending in May due to budget shortfalls. According to the Moss Adams report, the district then assessed new expenses to the new school budget year.

Another option is a short-term loan from the bank, Thomas said.

The format of the March 8 workshop hasn’t been arranged yet but according to Price Johnson “we will have a lot of financial information available showing where we are now.”

As part of the budget monitoring process the board expects to create a citizen advisory committee to provide input on financial matters. Price Johnson said she hopes to check with other school districts that are using citizens committees successfully.

The other two goals adopted by the board are: Assess current status of the district’s 1998-2003 strategic plan; and to dvocate for diverse educational options and opportunities throughout the district’s schools.

Another indicator of this goal is for each director to adopt a school and act as a liaison by becoming familiar with the operations, activities and students.

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