“Piling up: Administrators rarely say much about school district carry-over funds” (Our Views, Sept. 15) contained misstatements, concerns and questions related to state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi's plan for a $2,000 pay raise for teachers, to be paid with school fund balances and administrative costs.
I don't know of a single school superintendent who would not be eager to discuss carry-over funds. In fact on Sept. 27, 2012, I presented to the state Board of Education (Barresi was present) a detailed account of how Blanchard Public Schools spends fund balance monies and, specifically, what expenditures fund balance monies can be used for. Included in this list were unfunded mandates: insurance premium increases, TLE training and implementation, special education requirement increases, ACE remediation requirements, special education scholarships and virtual school costs, among others. Our fund balance also paid for one-time purchases of school buses, defibrillators, furniture, computers and technology.
Our fund balance was used to pay additional rent for our new high school. State Question 766 eliminated a revenue source, the intangible property tax, which had previously paid this rent. Also, fund balances that schools accumulate are used to pay operational expenses before state aid and ad valorem monies arrive.
Schools also “accumulate” or have carry-over to pay for the funding cuts that we've suffered recently — ad valorem cuts (State Questions 766 and 758), gross production tax losses (horizontal drilling tax reductions) and federal cuts (the sequester). Oklahoma also leads the nation in state aid cuts to public education at 22.8 percent.
These expenditures and cuts are how schools spend fund balances, with an upper limit of 14 percent for Blanchard Public Schools and also a board policy that says we will strive to achieve a 14 percent fund balance by the end of each fiscal year. So by law and by board policy, schools can't “hoard” money. If any action is taken as far as fund balances are concerned, it should be to increase the upper limit. This would allow schools adequate general fund revenue to make required bond payments, without needing to increase millages (real and personal property taxes) because of intangible losses.
As far as the proposal to reduce overhead by 2 percent to help pay for raises, Blanchard spends 2.67 percent (the cap is 5 percent) of its $14 million operating expenditure budget on “administrative overhead.” Most of this is for required expenses such as treasury services, auditing services, segregation of duties issues and even county services such as the visual inspection fee (money we pay the county to visually inspect oil field equipment to make sure none is being hidden). Two percent of this administrative overhead, when divided by 120, would give each teacher a whopping 17-cents-per-day pay raise.
Beckham is superintendent of schools in Blanchard.