In light of the front-page headline news regarding the St. Vrain Valley School District, I thought it timely to talk about the state of finances of the Roaring Fork School District. While our budget, like all Colorado public school districts, is stretched to accomplish the mandates of federal and state law, we are financially healthy and positioned to continue to offer the best education for our students far into the future. School districts are dependent on two variables for funding each year. The first variable is Per Pupil Funding, which provides a base per-pupil amount of money, plus additional funding to recognize district-by-district variances in: (a) cost of living, (b) personnel costs, and (c) size. One of the final tasks of the State Legislature each spring is to set the base per-pupil funding level for the following school year.The second variable is the student count. Funding is based on an annual Oct. 1 pupil count. Districts are given an 11-day window in which to establish membership of students, thus providing an opportunity to include students who may be absent on the official count day. The formula that is used to calculate Total Program Funding for a school district simply multiplies the Per-Pupil Funding by the official student count.School districts are vulnerable to making errors in projecting school budgets if there are unanticipated drops in student enrollment and/or inaccurate estimation of the change in Per-Pupil Funding. One of the most substantial changes the Roaring Fork School District made to ensure safe and predictable budgeting was to change the negotiation cycle to the fall, after Oct. 1. The Interest-Based Bargaining process in our district is based on accurate numbers. The Board of Education just affirmed the salary and benefit package for our teachers at the last board meeting. Our certified staff will see their annual adjustment as a result of these negotiations, starting in January. In addition, several years ago the district established a target reserve level, which is currently approximately $3 million. This reserve allows the district to absorb funding losses associated with enrollment declines until budget adjustments can be made in staffing and programs the following year. The reserve has provided stability for our students’ educational experiences and for their teachers’ peace of mind. Because our district’s enrollment has been unstable over the past seven years, we believe maintaining a reserve is critical to the continuity of our programs.Our district looks at budgeting from a multi-year perspective. One factor that appears to have contributed to St. Vrain’s financial problems was viewing reserves as available resources for ongoing expenditures in developing their subsequent year’s budget. By using a multi-year approach to budgeting, we ensure that we are able to meet our current obligations on an ongoing basis. Roaring Fork School District is audited annually by McMahan & Associates LLC, an independent C.P.A. firm that has extensive experience in auditing public school districts. Our audits are conducted in accordance with U.S. generally accepted auditing standards and the standards contained in Government Auditing Standards issued by the Comptroller General of the United States. We are currently in the process of completing our audit for 2002. Our last audit for 2001 included a “clean” opinion on the district’s financial statements. One of the functions of the Board of Education is to review the budget and audit process. This review takes place on a monthly basis. We invite the public to attend these meetings, which occur on the fourth Wednesday of each month. We also invite the public to call and visit with either Shannon Pelland or me about budget matters. Please call our office at 384-6000 with any questions.Fred Wall is the superintendent of Roaring Fork School District Re-1. Shannon Pelland, the district’s director of finance, co-wrote this column.
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