Suwannee Democrat

Local News

June 5, 2014

Hamilton school district crunches budget numbers

Prepares for lower enrollment figures next year

Jasper — Hamilton County School District Director of Business Services Mary Loughran presented an analytical review of the funding stream from the state of Florida, as of April, 2014 and compared it to projections for the 2014-15 school year budget.
Loughran explained that funding from the state is never cut and dry each year because they can take money from one line item and move it to another. The package that was approved by the Florida Legislature, she said, is awaiting the governor’s signature.
“Even though base student allocation is going from $3,752.30 to $4,031.77, there are things that are impacted that go down the line,” said Loughran. “They give you some in one area and take it away in another area. It’s a juggling act.”
The teacher’s union, she said, is requesting a four percent increase, however, new digital classroom requirements will likely use up any extra funds the district receives for the next school year. The McKay Scholarship for students with disabilities, Loughran explained, impacted the district this year by over $80,000. These ESE (Exceptional Student Education) students, she explained, could elect to get their education in a private or charter school and those allocated funds go with them.
Additionally, there could be lost tax revenue when PotashCorp closes down one of their mines, so the district has to set aside funds to prepare for that., Loughran added.
Declining enrollment is also a factor, Loughran continued, and won’t be known until October when the first FTE (Full-time Enrollment) count is completed.
“The remaining new money, after the $257,000, ends up at $267,777,” Loughran said.
Risk Management went down $8,197, which adds to available new money, but an anticipated five percent increase for Blue Cross/Blue Shield Health Insurance will be a negative hit of over $50,000. Loughran said there might be the possibility of a school board contribution change toward that benefit, or salary that would cover the cost of the increase.
“It’s just areas to be ready for,” she told the board members.
Skyward has also increased by about $2,800. Loughran noted that Columbia County is looking at switching to Focus accounting software, which Suwannee County has been piloting for the last three years and has not become operational yet. She noted, however, that if Columbia County joins Skyward and pays their share, it could help reduce costs to Hamilton County, whereby they would receive a rebate.
The Florida Retirement System (FRS) contribution rate is estimated to increase two percent, which equates to about $12,000, and energy/fuels costs are estimated to rise 10 percent, equating to an additional $20,000.
For the past two years, the legislature passed a requirement that if any elementary school fell into the lowest performing 100 schools in the state, they would be required to add an extra hour of instructional time to the students, which is unfunded. Loughran estimated $360,000 for all three elementary schools for instructional staff and guidance might be needed to satisfy this requirement if the three schools were included in the lowest performing 100 schools in the state.
“We hope to be not anywhere near this, but because of the budget impact that it could have, we wanted to make sure that we addressed it here, just in case” said Superintendent Thomas Moffses.
Loughran said word on the street is that about 70 students in the district will be transferring to private or charter schools next year because of the school board’s decision to consolidate the three elementary schools, assuming state special facilities funding comes through. Should this happen, it would be a loss of about $263,000 to the school district.
All totaled, the unrestricted fund balance on June 30 is estimated at $482,722.29. At the end of the 2014-15 school year, the fund balance would only be $50,384.94, which Loughran said leaves no room for growth.
If the board decides to outsource their custodial program, there could be some relief to the budget of close to $47,000, Loughran added, which would give them a nearly $100,000 cushion.

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