School district budgeted to go $14,000 in the red

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— The Steamboat Springs School District could overspend by $14,000 this year, according to its preliminary 2001 budget, but that will only happen if it spends every penny of its reserves.

The RE-2 Board of Education questioned district finance director Dale Mellor about this discrepancy in the fiscal year 2001 preliminary budget Monday night, but Mellor assured it that the district will have the funds to cover the $14,000, which is merely appropriated, not spent.

"We would have to spend every penny of the reserves and we have never done that," Mellor said.

Each year, the school district sets aside reserves that generally do not get spent for attorney fees, unused sick time, bus replacement, maintenance and other items. In years past, the district's fund balance, or savings, was increasing because of a more conservative budget style. This year's projected fund balance, which hovers around the $6 million mark, will decrease $14,000.

The total general fund budget for FY 2001 is $13.4 million, with 80 percent of that being spent on salaries and benefits.

"It was a more conservative budget style," he said. "This year's budget is more accurate."

Mellor would not describe the budget as riskier, but said the district took that risk last year when the Collaborative Bargaining Team gave the staff a hefty raise, which is already included in the FY 2001 budget. This budget also includes a 2.8 percent increase in all areas across the board except health insurance. Mellor said last week that the raise negotiated by Collaborative Bargaining last fall will probably not happen again this fall.

Another factor in the budget every year is a $390,000 emergency reserve that is required under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights Amendment. Each school district in the state must set aside the money, which can only be spent in an emergency, Mellor said. The district has never touched that money, he said.

The board is scheduled to approve the preliminary budget at its June 12 meeting and must approve the final budget by Oct. 15.

Mellor cautioned that the final budget will change based on the 2000-2001 school year pupil count, which is finalized in October.

- To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail jbartlett@amigo.net

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