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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 board underscores fiscal responsibility

The Falcon School District 49 Board of Education passed a resolution Nov. 13 tightening spending restrictions in the district as it relates to hiring for new positions. The resolution underscores the solid financial condition of the district but requires the superintendent to provide justification to the board for any new hires.Board director Mark Shook said the resolution specifies hiring procedures, but the board could look at all district spending. “In the future, it would be prudent to look at all major purchases,” he said.”People have said that the superintendent has been on a spending spree, but that is not completely accurate.”While Superintendent Grant Schmidt has made several large purchases since he joined the district in May, Shook said the expenditures were long overdue or came directly out of the superintendent’s budget. A public relations director, $4,700 for a tow-behind grill and eight teachers working on curriculum alignment were among the expenses.”These expenditures were made before I was on the board and I did not review them,” Shook said. “But if the superintendent had come to the board last year, before the current economic crisis and explained their benefit and how it will pay for itself over the long run, I would have approved that in normal economic times.”Shook said moving forward the district should be reasonable and prudent until the board receives projections for next year’s student count and per-pupil revenue. “We should have that in a few months, and then we could go forward with buying more classroom computers and scientific calculators,” he said.A report presented by interim chief financial officer Joe Subialka to the board Oct. 22 estimated a 2008-09 ending fund balance of $10.6 million or 13 percent of expenditures, down from the high in 2006-07, which recorded a 28 percent fund balance of $17.5 million. The report also showed the district spending 5 percent over the estimated per-pupil revenue.Although the district fund balance is declining, Shook said the district exceeds the state requirement of 3 percent and is in keeping with the board’s own policy of a 10 percent fund balance. “We’re not in the red, there is no financial crisis in Falcon school district,” he said.Former D 49 CFO Laine Gibson said he is concerned the district is spending money and circumventing the proper channels. “This community is ultra-conservative, especially fiscally, and if they understood the use of money, they wouldn’t appreciate it,” he said.Gibson said the district usually goes through a process of prioritizing needs before granting funding. He said he objected to Schmidt coming in at the end of the 2008-09 budget process and making unilateral decisions without consulting the long-time district employees. “He basically said, ‘We’re doing this, you figure out how we’re going to pay for it,'” Gibson said.Some of the programs initiated by the superintendent and paid out of the fund balance, such as the curriculum alignment, are necessary, he said. But he questions whether it was the best use of the funds at this time. “Was it (curriculum alignment) more important than other projects that didn’t get funding? Those questions were never asked,” Gibson said.If the fund balance is too low, unexpected problems could cripple the district, he said. D 49 spent more than $1 million in 2007 on mold remediation at the elementary schools. The district removed the mold but did not fix the initial cause of the problem – water penetrating the exterior walls – and D 49 facilities management is researching potential solutions.”The district is going to spend all the fund balance and then when they figure out how to do it (fix the water leaks), they’re not going to be able to,” Gibson said. In this scenario, Gibson said he foresees the district approaching the tax payers for more money. “My answer’s going to be, no way, you wasted money.”The fund balance should be treated as a savings account and used for large or unexpected expenses like mold remediation that can’t be covered by the operating budget, Gibson said. However, he said the district cannot continue to take money out of the fund balance to cover operating expenses, such as additional central office staff costing $500,000 each year. If D 49 continues to operate out of the fund balance, Gibson said the district could be headed for trouble: “When your savings account is gone, it’s gone.”

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