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July 29, 2013

Fitzgerald school board passes budget

Officials will use fund equity for shortfall

By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — The reduction of some full-time teaching positions to part-time and a dip into the district’s fund equity will help Fitzgerald Public Schools balance its budget for next year.

At a school board meeting June 20, the school board approved 6-0 the proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year. Board member Don Brewer was absent.

According to the proposed budget, revenues totaled $31,571,628, and expenditures were totaled at $31,378,970.

Revenue is money the district receives and includes local, state and federal dollars, and other sources. Expenditures are the district’s expenses and includes employee salaries and benefits; central, athletic and community services; pupil transportation; and operations and maintenance costs. 

Next year’s proposed budget leaves the district with a $192,658 shortfall. District officials will use the district’s fund equity to make up the difference to balance the budget. By state law, districts have to balance their budgets. Fund equity works like a savings account and is used in emergency situations.

District Superintendent Barbara VanSweden said school officials reduced some teaching positions to part-time, which lowered expenses for next year. In addition, a Chatterton Middle School clerical position was eliminated and the district combined two department heads at central administration.

“We combined human resources and facilities and transportation. Instead of two directors, we will have one who oversees human resources and operations. It alleviates a central office position,” VanSweden said, adding the combined departments also have “some supporting positions.”

This year’s shortfall is much smaller than in the past years.

“I would say over the last four years, we have made significant decisions that have lessened the impact to our fund balance each year,” VanSweden said. “That’s the least amount of fund balance we have had to use in the last five years. We would like to not have to use fund balance and really save that for emergency situations.”

Budgeting has become an ongoing struggle for districts statewide. Funding for public education is tied to the economy. Because of the state’s economic downturn, less per-pupil funding is available for public education, although expenses — including utility, supply and employment retirements — have increased. Many districts have cut staff and programs in the last several years just to stay financially afloat.

“All of our employees have been very cooperative in working along with us in reducing expenses,” VanSweden said. “This has been a total district effort at trying to reduce our expenses. That starts at the Board of Education.”

In an effort to cut expenses over the years, Fitzgerald has outsourced its technology services and also its food service department. According to school officials, when districts outsource such services, it cuts down on costs because the district then is not responsible for paying into the employees’ retirement costs.

“The Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System has been a significant increasing cost to all districts,” VanSweden said. “When we outsource, we are not paying that.”

Fitzgerald officials predict an enrollment of 2,850 students for next year. With Schools of Choice and families moving in or out of the district, that number could change, but VanSweden said, “Our enrollment has pretty much stabilized.”

Budget numbers project an approximate $8,019 in per-pupil funding for the 2013-14 school year.

Next year’s budget is comparable to the 2012-13 budget, which had revenues at $30.6 million and expenditures at $31.5 million. The fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.