Finance director warns South Routt School Board about spending | SteamboatToday.com

Finance director warns South Routt School Board about spending

New South Routt Elementary Principal Randy Foster talks with students during the first day of classes Monday. District administrators and the school board were warned to be fiscally conservative this year during a meeting Tuesday.

— New South Routt School District finance director Mark Rydberg was stern with school board members this week about the need to be fiscally conservative.

Rydberg was hired as finance director for Steamboat Springs School District and South Routt over the summer and is currently facilitating a 2014-15 fiscal year audit for the district, as well as looking over financial projections for the coming year.

"Our current financial position and what I know of it — just the numbers — I wouldn't call it strong," Rydberg told the board Tuesday. "The budget is very tight, and you should really be very cautious about adding any expense."

Rydberg reminded the board that, in past years, the district's fund balance had been reduced by half — to just over $700,000.

"That's not a sustainable path," Rydberg said.

During a contentious discussion, board members told Rydberg the deficit spending was intentional because of what board members felt was an excessive amount of reserves. Board members said they didn’t believe deficit spending had taken place during the most recent school year.

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"We didn't want to be sitting on a pile of cash that could be used to help students," said board member John McCollum.

Rydberg acknowledged Wednesday that the years in which the deficit spending took place were tough years for all districts coping with state funding shortfalls.

“A lot of us were doing that,” he said. “It wasn’t out of the norm. Now, we’ve weathered the storm.”

Preliminary enrollment numbers for South Routt — 350 students across the district — are down from last year and from district predictions.

Assuming forecasts hold true for the official Oct. 1 count, it will mean a reduction in per-pupil funding to the district, some of which was projected.

On top of that, Rydberg said he predicts a larger-than-anticipated negative factor at the state level, meaning a smaller per-pupil amount, also a loss to the district.

In response to the information, Superintendent Darci Mohr said district administration has held off hiring for four vacant positions, and the district plans to keep a balanced budget for the upcoming year.

Rydberg advised board members to be careful about approving additional expenses, including expenses proposed earlier in Tuesday's meeting for the district's new preschool.

Opened over the summer, the Soroco Preschool at Yampa is already projecting full capacity by mid-September, with plans to potentially add a second classroom near the end of the year.

"Let's be cautious," Rydberg said, regarding preschool spending. "I get the need, but we only have limited resources."

Rydberg said the district's budget would become more clear after final enrollment numbers are tabulated Oct. 1 and after state funding levels are determined near the end of the year.

Board members assured Rydberg that, when necessary, they are a fiscally conservative board.

"If we're going to be down (in student numbers), we'll react to that," said board member Jules Palyo.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow