The Columbia school district’s Board of Education approved its budget for the 2018-19 school year during its September meeting last Tuesday.
The budget predicts the district will receive $21,716,458 in revenues this year and expend $21,827,622. That is an overall budget deficit of $111,164.
The only funds in the negative this year are the debt service fund, which is in the red by $403,900, and the fire prevention and safety fund, which has a shortfall of $82,064.
Columbia school superintendent Dr. Gina Segobiano said the latter fund is in the negative because the district has used a nickel levy from last year and this year for projects. The district also began the year with balance of more than $950,000 in that fund.
She also said the debt service fund will be less in the red once the district gets its equalized assessed value on property taxes from the county assessor’s office. That fund started the year with more than $400,000 in it.
Segobiano also said the district not having its property tax funds due to the delayed assessments made writing the budget more difficult.
“We do have a lot of guessing games this year because, as you know, property taxes have not been determined and certified yet,” Segobiano said. “So all the superintendents in Monroe County are at a guessing stage as to what our tax extension will be for the school districts. Local property taxes supports about 80 percent of our entire budget.”
With that in mind, Segobiano said she wrote the budget as if the district’s EAV would remain flat this year. It increased last year.
“I felt that was a gift last year,” Segobiano said. “Therefore, I would rather be more conservative.”
The district does not require a deficit reduction plan because all of its operating funds are balanced, each of them showing a surplus.
The operating funds are the educational, operations and maintenance, transportation and working cash funds.
In another financial matter, the board received an audit report from the accounting firm Schorb & Schmersahl in Columbia.
Jim Schmersahl said the audit, which covered the previous fiscal year, came back positive.
“You had a good year,” he summarized. “You had a clean audit.”
In other business, the board passed a change to board policy 4:60 on second reading by a vote of 5-1.
The policy deals with the superintendent’s responsibilities as it relates to purchases and contracts.
The change allows the superintendent to authorize contracts of up to $25,000. These contracts will be for items that are not budgeted, cannot wait until the next board meeting and are not an emergency.
“I would recommend the board adopt this to give me more guidance and give the future superintendent more guidance,” Segobiano said. “It could always be changed. But I think it’s beneficial to keep it clear.”
Board member Tammy Hines voted against the policy on the first and second readings.
“I’d like to reiterate my disapproval with giving the superintendent the authority to spend $25,000 on a single item without board approval,” Hines said.
She reasoned that with all the exemptions to this rule the change is not needed. She asked Segobiano for an example of something the district purchased recently that would not fall into any of the exemptions.
Segobiano said she could not answer for sure without going back through the district’s records, but technology expense items related to Chromebooks could approach that threshold.
“There’s not a lot,” Segobiano said of items that would fall under this umbrella. “It’s not like I authorize contracts of $25,000 often. This just gives me the latitude or the next superintendent the latitude.”
The change is now board policy.
In a final financial matter, the board approved a resolution to provide tax abatement for the building at the 11 South complex.
The board signed a letter of intent to provide the 75 percent tax abatement in 2014 after it was approached by the city, county and developer Joe Koppeis about providing an abatement to incentivize development.
“This truly was just an incentive for development,” Segobiano said. “Eventually we are going to have great gains at the sacrifice of an early abatement loss.”
The abatement continues for 10 years or until the total abatement comes to $1 million, whichever occurs first. The agreement only applies to the first two buildings at 11 South. The million dollar figure is for each building.
It is also contingent on no residential buildings being constructed at the site.
The district still receives 25 percent of the complex’s property taxes. Before the development, Segobiano said the land netted the district about $50 in property taxes.
This marks the first year the complex has received a tax bill, Segobiano said.
To read more about the happenings at the Sept. 25 school board meeting related to facility projects going on in the district, see the story in next week’s Republic-Times.