Two weeks ago, Idaho Education News reported a story on school fund balances throughout the state. Big Country news picked up the story and shared it with our local readers. Many patrons of the district have either ask me directly or in a roundabout way if the information was correct. The answer is yes, and I am proud of it!
The audit report for FY 2019 showed a reserve of $738,418.00. This was largely in part of being smart with that year’s levy dollars, as well as an unexpected SRS (Secure Rural Schools) payment. But what the story didn’t show was that the district still had two months of operational costs before it received its first payment from the state in August. The district’s FY ends on June 30, and records show that the general fund bills for July and August were approved for $310,913.00, leaving 427,505.00 to support state funding through 19-20.
From the outside, this looks like big dollars, but from the inside, having no local share (levy) and no SRS payment for 2019, the district would be back to the situation where it was three years ago.
When I came to this district, my first order of business was to go downtown to the local banks to discuss the chances of borrowing money to allow it to meet contractual obligations, as well as continue to operate over the summer months. This was because the board and former superintendent were forced to deplete any reserves to a point where there was no “fund balance” to operate from. I remember reading a comment in the Clearwater Progress that told the district to spend all of its money before coming to the community to ask for support. Now, after working hard to adjust spending without hurting student programs or opportunities, the district is being scrutinized for having a fund balance that will carry us through the two months and offset additional costs through the year.
The breakdown of the schools budget could go even deeper, trying to explain how the “fund balance” is made up of earmarked money, only to be spent in specific ways and how the current request for a levy will continue to support basic operations not funded by the state. But no matter how much in-depth discussion about funding, trust, etc., it all comes down to what do you want your community to look like and is the school district an important enough piece of that picture to take the time to cast your ballot on March 10. I’m part of the establishment, so my opinion really doesn’t count, but I know my belief and I know what I want for the community I was raised in.