By LISA CAPOBIANCO
School officials are projecting that the district’s general operating budget will end this fiscal year with a $500,000 surplus.
During the Board of Education’s Finance Committee meeting last Wednesday, the district’s business administrator, Steve Nembirkow, said the $107,746,240 budget is on track to end Fiscal Year 2016-2017 with a $500,000 surplus. How the district will use the projected half-million dollar surplus is yet to be determined.
“There will be some significant savings in lapse salaries. That’s a matter of getting a handle on that and figuring out who is on leave, who is not being paid while on leave,” said Nembirkow. “We’ll continue to track that, but it’s looking okay for now.”
The school board is currently arguing for a proposed budget of $114,422,339 for the next fiscal year, which represents an increase of $6,676,009 or 7.04 percent over the current fiscal year budget.
Board of Education Vice Chairperson Karen Vibert, who chairs the finance committee, said the district is required by law not to end the fiscal year with a deficit, adding how $500,000 is less than half of 1 percent of the total budget.
“A lot of people don’t realize that by law, we cannot end the year in a deficit,” said Vibert. “We have to come out like that.”
One factor that may have an impact on this projected surplus, however, is health insurance. During his budget review with the finance committee, Nembirkow said the city recently transferred out $15.4 million for health insurance (medical/dental), which represents a 9.9 percent increase over FY 16. In February, this increase was reported to be 5.4 percent. Nembirkow told school officials that he was planning to meet with the city comptroller’s office to clarify that issue.
“We’re having discussions with the comptroller’s office to try and get a handle on that,” said Nembirkow.
“If we’re running on a $500,000 surplus, that really lowers our total expected [budget] request,” said Board of Education Commissioner David Scott.
While she understood this, Vibert said changing the board’s FY 18 budget request would put the district at a worse position for the following year, noting that spending being withheld partly contributed to the projected surplus.
“Spending has been held back, and it really shouldn’t have been held back,” said Vibert. “Lots of supplies were not purchased—from the first day of school. We have elementary school teachers…that spent so much of their own money to buy supplies.”
Board of Education Chairman Chris Wilson recalled how the district ended up spending $3 million more than anticipated last June.
“It’s much too early to even make any kind of assessment as to whether we’re going to maintain a surplus or not until we all the close-outs of all the open purchase items,” said Wilson.
Meanwhile, the food services budget, which is separate from the district’s operating budget, could end this fiscal year with a deficit. During the meeting, Deputy Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Moreau reported a projected $26,000 deficit for the current $2,825,930 food services budget, which includes salaries, the projected number of students who take part in the school lunch program, and a pension contribution for food service employees.
“A big piece of this is this pension contribution that we can’t absorb in the food services budget,” said Moreau, who also noted that the district is still waiting for reimbursement to come through for the school lunch program.
Last year, the food services budget had a $28,353, surplus, which Moreau said could offset a $26,000 deficit.
“We have a $28,000 surplus from last year that could be used to offset that amount [$26,000],” said Moreau.
The Board of Education has proposed a FY 18 food services budget of $2,950,172.
“It’s not an expense budget—we don’t put any local money into the food services budget,” explained Wilson. “It’s just federal reimbursements that are in that food services budget. It’s almost like a flat budget—we’re not using $124,000 going into that budget.”