South Kitsap School District’s fund balance climbs rapidly

South Kitsap School District officials expect a significant increase in its fund balance.

Al Jones, SKSD interim chief financial officer, who made the budget presentation during Tuesday night’s school board meeting, projects that number to increase to $8 million when school begins.

He said the explanation behind that is simple: several departments spent less money than anticipated during the 2013-14 school year.

Jones, who assisted SKSD officials with developing a budget for the upcoming school year, said the fund balance should increase at a more modest rate in 2014-15. He and his colleagues expect the fund balance to increase to about $8.5 million at the conclusion of the 2014-15 school year.

That would represent the district’s largest fund balance since it was more than $8.6 million in 2009-10. But that number decreased to about $4.9 million in 2012-13, which led Reid to consult with Debra Aungst, a former Puyallup School District administrator, to perform a review of SKSD’s finances last August. Aungst’s report stated that the district’s “current financial condition clearly calls for immediate attention.” She was referring to a specific category state education officials  use to measure each district’s financial health. Using the state’s matrix, SKSD was three steps away from a financial warning. Among the state’s 295 school districts, 270 were in better financial shape than SKSD.

“I think it was the big challenge this year to turn it around,” Jones said.

Superintendent Michelle Reid believes some of that was related to a structural change in the budget process in 2013-14. She said she placed directors in charge of their budgets. For example, transportation director Jay Rosapepe was placed in charge of expenditures for his department. Reid said that enabled those officials to decide how to spend some of the funds they receive, which she believes resulted in savings and enabled them to prioritize issues.

“I don’t want to micromanage their decisions unless they cross the bottom line,” she said.

That system will continue for the upcoming school year. Reid said most departments were provided with similar budgets to 2013-14. Some areas will see increases as the district implements an expanded all-day kindergarten program, International Baccalaureate programs at three schools and the reduction of one student in elementary-school classrooms as was negotiated during last year’s agreement between SKSD and the teachers’ union.

During a May 8 Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Reid said part of the reason behind adding those programs was an effort to reduce the volume of students within SKSD boundaries opting to attend other school districts. That is significant because the state provides districts with funding for every full-time equivalent (FTE) student. During 2009-10, SKSD had 9,751 FTE. That decreased to 9,024 last year. SKSD, which contracts with Greene Gasaway Architects of Federal Way to project future enrollment, expects 8,787 for the upcoming school year.

The district will have a budget hearing at 6 p.m. Aug. 5 at SKSD’s administration building. Reid said the budget will be adopted Aug. 19.

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