Fayette BoE for 1st time in years to limit spending to income

After a painful readjustment to five years of falling revenues, the Fayette County School System will plan to spend next school year only as much as it actually takes in.

The adoption of the Fayette County School System’s FY 2014 budget is about a month away, and a look at the tentative budget shows a slight drop in revenues beginning in July.

But the difference in this year and last is that the school system with a proposed $162 million budget would have an $11.5 million fund balance built in to begin establishing a goal of retaining up to 10 percent of its budget in reserve.

The current general fund budget totals $163.1 million, with nearly all of that amount coming from state and local sources. Of that total, $81.4 million comes from state QBE (Quality Basic Education) dollars while approximately $81 million is from local property tax and vehicle tag revenue.

The proposed budget totals $162 million, with $75.7 million in local sources and $83.7 million in state funds, according to information supplied by school system Assistant Superintendent of Business and Personnel Management Tom Gray.

While the difference in the two budgets is minor, amounting to approximately $1.1 million overall, there is significantly more to the story. The difference can be found in the projected fund balance for June 30, 2014. The school board this year used nearly all the $15 million in fund balance to adopt a budget that totals $177.3 million. The proposed budget would have the projected $11.6 million on June 30, an amount realized through cost-cutting measures enacted during the current school year, to be held as a fund balance for next year.

That means for the first time in years the school system will be living within its means, spending the same amount of money it generates without relying on fund balance to balance the budget.

Interim Superintendent Dan Colwell has remarked on repeated occasions his desire to propose a budget that provides at least 5 percent in available fund balance, with the idea of having that amount increase to 10 percent in the coming year or two.

A noteworthy addition to the tentative budget is the addition of three instructional days, bringing the total back to 180 days of classroom instruction.

Directly and indirectly, state funds are expected to increase slightly next year due to two factors, Gray said. One of those deals with a decrease in the required payment to the state, known as the 5-mill share, because the county’s tax digest continues to fall, Gray said. That means Fayette will keep more of the money it historically had sent to the state. Gray also noted that the state calculation of those numbers lagged a few years behind the actual fall in the tax digest.

The other factor, one that will bring a small increase in the money received from the state, deals with the way state funds are calculated through student participation in certain programs.

The school board will hold a half-day budget workshop in early June and will adopt the formal budget on June 17.