District takes cautious approach to budget planning

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published April 20, 2015

HARPER WOODS — District officials are looking to avoid overshooting their revenue projections for next year to prevent negative surprises down the road.

“We’re trying to be conservative on most things,” district Business Manager James Dennis said.

District officials held their preliminary budget discussion during the April 14 budget workshop. They looked at early projections, and the administration noted that there will be many updates as the district moves toward the time to approve the 2015-16 budget this summer.

“This will change a zillion times over,” Dennis explained. “We’re probably at step 1 of 12.”

Superintendent Todd Biederwolf agreed that the projections are preliminary, with a number of factors that have not been determined, including the district’s per-pupil funding from the state.

“We are still building the budget,” he explained.

To remain on the safe side of budgetary planning, the district is taking a conservative approach. The district is assuming that local revenue will stay flat. It also is maintaining similarly flat projections on other revenue sources and keeping enrollment growth projections low.

“The property values in the city have actually gone up a little bit,” Dennis said.

The district can still make adjustments after the actual numbers come in.

In 2013-14, the district overestimated enrollment and the anticipated fund balance growth. It projected adding about $855,000 to the fund balance that year, but ended up adding just $89,000 to the fund balance instead.

“There was a lot of investment that was occurring in the district,” Biederwolf said.

For the current year, the district chose to take a more conservative approach to enrollment projections, and the district ended up growing the fund balance by more than anticipated because more students enrolled than projected. 

“This time, our fund balance trended in a more positive direction because we passed our enrollment target,” Biederwolf said. 

The district had projected more than $130,000 in growth at the start of 2014-15, but ended up with more than $328,000 in anticipated growth by budget amendment 1.

“The revenue is largely dependent on our student enrollment,” Biederwolf said. 

The district estimated that it would have 1,673 students last fall. It ended up with 1,791 by first count in October. Then, the student count went up to 1,824 in February.

“That is a good problem to have,” Biederwolf said. “It suggests to me that the word is getting out about good things going on in Harper Woods Schools.” 

Other good news is that Harper Woods Schools remains on strong financial footing.

Due to budget planning in recent years and attracting new students, the district has kept its budget on track.

“There is no financial crisis here in Harper Woods Schools,” Biederwolf said.

The district is looking at another possible increase in enrollment for next year, which would result in more revenue for the district.

At this time, officials are keeping their enrollment projection at 1,863 students, which is an increase of almost 40, but they believe it might end up higher.

“I like the conservative approach … underpromising and overdelivering,” he said.

Officials are hopeful that next year will mark five years of revenue outweighing expenditures. 

“We are again projecting that we will see our fund balance grow,” Biederwolf said of the early projections.

Because of the district’s solid financial ground, the school board is planning to vote against issuing any layoff notices by the required notification deadline this month. It’s something that the board voted on in the past, including last year, which the board said sends a positive message to staff.

They may even be adding a couple of positions for next year, according to district officials.