But state funding uncertain
By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
“Unlike many schools across the state, we remain in a favorable position, because we have a fund balance that’s rather healthy,” Sam Barna, assistant superintendent of business operations, told the Oxford school board in May.
Oxford Community Schools began the 2020-21 fiscal year this month with a general fund balance of $11,667,069, up from $10.6 million in 2019-20.
The schools saved a lot of money during the nearly three month school closure this spring. Expenses were reduced “across the board” in everything from office supplies to electric and gas utilities, according to Barna. Since they did not have to transport students to and from school every day, the transportation department saved on gasoline and bus maintenance.
Superintendent Tim Throne also noted the district “saved a tremendous amount of money” since no substitute teachers were needed during those months. Because of the savings during the closures, they were able to add about $1 million to the general fund balance. Despite this good news, there is plenty of concern about what the 2020-21 fiscal/school year will bring.
“We have not pulled one dollar (from the general fund) in the five years that I’ve been your superintendent,” Throne said. “I can almost guarantee you that is going to happen this coming year.”
Even though the student body has grown every year, to be conservative, Barna is estimating no change in this year’s enrollment, from last year’s 6,841 full-time equivalency (FTE) students. They anticipate a significant reduction in per-pupil funding from the state, due to the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic. How much that reduction will be is uncertain, but estimates range from $250 to $2,000.
Barna budgeted for a $500 per-pupil reduction from last year’s $8,111. Figuring 6,841 students, that amounts to a $3.4 million decrease.
Assuming the orginial figures, the total budget amounts to $65.8 million in revenues and $68.3 million in expenditures, putting the budget $2.5 million in the red. To balance the budget, they will dip into the general fund balance, reducing the balance to $9.2 million.
The official student enrollment “count day” is the first Wednesday in October. The state reportedly will not release per-pupil aid until January.
Barna reminded the board that the governor, the house and the senate have to agree on the reductions, which will take time. “The state had money last year, and we still didn’t know what our budget was until late September. . . Now look at the turmoil that we’re in. We all have a lot of unknowns in front of us.”
In the meantime, “We’re going to be working extremely diligently to develop a plan in order to ensure that we are mitigating a lot of these decreases that we’re going to be seeing and making it as palatable as possible in our general fund and our operations,” Barna assured the board.
The budget was approved at the June 9 meeting.