Harper Woods Schools budget is in the black

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published July 1, 2013

HARPER WOODS — A few years ago, things looked bleak for the future of the Harper Woods School District’s finances.

They could have ended up with the more-than 50 school districts that are running deficit budgets in the state. Instead, they took action and found solid ground with a number of initiatives to boost enrollment, which in turn boosted revenue.

The school board approved the 2013-14 budget by a 6-0 vote during its June 18 meeting. When asked to what he attributes the district’s projected positive financial direction, Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said it was based on growing enrollment.

“We are a district (where) our community confidence is growing, and as community confidence grows, and part of that is based upon improvements in student achievement, then our enrollment grows,” Biederwolf said. “We’re performing better. More parents are making the decision that Harper Woods is a great place for my child.”

He attributed that success to the Board of Education and others in the district.

“Their leadership and the hard work of our staff is making a difference,” he said.

The district is projecting a general fund of about $16.6 million in revenues and $15.8 million in expenditures. They are anticipating adding about $855,000 to the district’s fund equity. If projected numbers play out, they will end with about $2.4 million in fund equity next year. 

If they reach that projection, the district will end up growing its fund balance at the end of next year to just under the district’s policy of having an amount equal to 15 percent of its general fund budget in its fund balance. They are looking at slightly less than 10 percent at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year, and 10 percent is what many auditors recommend as a minimum amount.

“We haven’t been there in years,” board President Brian Selburn said. “That’s extraordinary if we can get there next year — just extraordinary.”

Many districts can’t boast the same.

Harper Woods is seeing increases in enrollment in their regular schools, but also in programs they’ve added, like the alternative school partnership. 

The challenge of school budgets is that official enrollment numbers come after the budgets are approved, so they are always just projections until later in the fiscal year.

Biederwolf said they are “keeping our fingers crossed for enrollment in the fall, but hearing good projections.”

“If everything holds out, if the students come, we’ll be in the financial position that I presented to you tonight,” said district Business Manager James Dennis.