Schools’ financial forecast fluctuates

The forecast for Brown County Schools’ finances is beginning to clear, but the continual dropping student enrollment is bringing more clouds to the radar.

According to the annual financial report, published in the Marketplace section of this week’s paper, the district’s actual grand total revenue for 2015 was $22,715,100.50. This was higher than the approved budget revenue of $22,017,314 — which is good, district Treasurer Susie Owens said.

“It’s because maybe more taxpayers paid their bills this year,” she said.

“It’s somewhat of a guessing game on how much money you’re going to get, because you don’t know what the finances are of the people that you’re billing.”

When compared to 2014, actual revenue was down in the general fund, which is funded by the state and is based primarily on student enrollment. The fact that student enrollment continues to decline is one challenge the district faces in budgeting, Owens said.

“If we’re not getting the funding, but we still want to continue to give them all of the classes they need and the teachers they need to do the classes, we can’t always fund it, and that gets into a whole new world of we still have to give the minimum, but we want to give our accelerated students the options they need,” she said.

Student forecast

At the July 7 school board meeting, Superintendent Laura Hammack shared the concerns of former Superintendent David Shaffer: that the district will lose between 30 and 50 students this school year when compared to last year.The district receives around $5,800 per student from the state. That goes into the general fund, which pays the salaries of teachers and staff.

If the district loses 25 students next year, that could result in a loss of $131,842. If 50 students do not return to the district, that’s a decrease of $279,488, according to a revenue comparison from the Indiana Department of Education.

A recent change in how the state measures the “complexity index” of school districts also affects Brown County Schools. It’s a factor in the formula for funding the district receives from the state.

The index was previously based on the district’s free and reduced-price lunch rate. Last school year, 52.6 percent of students received lunch assistance.

Now, the complexity index is based on the number of families who receive TANF benefits, SNAP benefits or have children in foster care.

The forecast for the complexity index is going down because of the change, which means less money for the district, Hammack said.

Back to normal

Budgeted expenditures for 2015 were $23,296,759.54, but the district ended up spending less — $19,200,886.72.In 2014, $2,777,744.95 was spent out of the district’s capital projects fund, which funds building improvements, technology and support services. Expenditures decreased to $1,752,632.69 in 2015.

Owens said less was spent because there was less to fix in these areas last year. “We had to catch up for a few years, and now we’re getting back into the normal,” she said.

The school district is still in deficit financing — spending more than it is taking in — but the gap fluctuates.

“The thing is, we are so close to that edge, we can go deficit or we can go over (out of deficit). It’s within less than $100,000,” Owens said. “It’s dependent upon whatever bills you’ve got sitting there sometimes.”

Declining enrollment also has an effect, because if a student leaves mid-year, their state funding leaves with them. “It’s really hard to plan on the losing of students. You just never know where that number is going to go,” Owens said.

Increases in spending for 2015 came from the district’s transportation and bus replacement funds.

The district spent $19,123.35 on vehicle operation from the transportation fund in 2014. That increased to $71,532.13 in 2015.

“The more buses, the more upkeep,” Owens said. “Right now we spent quite a bit getting the buses ready for this year and I know there was more equipment bought this year.”

There was also an increase in school transportation and school bus replacement tax rates in 2015. That stemmed in part from the district having to buy new school buses, Owens said.

“That will probably go up again, because some of our buses are really starting to have age on them,” she said.

Read the report

The school district’s financial report for 2015-16 is in the Marketplace section of this week’s paper; however, it doesn’t show comparisons to spending and revenue the previous year. This story points out some of the biggest differences.