Preliminary spending plan approved by board as district awaits final word on state aid
Citing an ongoing effort to cut expenses but still provide staff pay increases, the Grafton School Board on Monday approved a preliminary balanced budget for the 2015-16 year.
The board’s decision came with little fanfare after Supt. Mel Lightner and Director of Business Services Kristin Sobocinski reviewed steps being taken to offset deficits in early financial projections.
“We’ve worked very diligently at crafting this budget,” Lightner told the board.
“With the state’s decision to freeze revenue, it’s been extremely challenging.”
Although the district originally anticipated a $1 million deficit, the state’s Joint Finance Committee’s recent decision to reinstate a proposed cut in categorical aid is expected to restore $300,000 in revenue to the district.
That decision — which keeps categorical aid at the same level as last year — pared the deficit to $700,000 but still required major cuts to balance the budget, Lightner noted.
In response, the board approved staff adjustments that included cutting $233,704 by eliminating two full-time administrative positions; and pared $162,349 from the learning services budget; $100,000 in health insurance adjustments; and more than $150,000 in co-curricular and supervisory pay, part-time assistants and other employees.
The insurance changes include cutting the district’s cash-in-lieu of insurance payments and premium contributions for employees who do not meet wellness incentives.
The board also approved a 1.62% wage increase for teachers and hourly staff, a 1% increase for administrative and managerial salaries and $130,000 in learning-based compensation.
The changes leave the district’s Fund 10 operating expenditures and revenues at $22,949,620. The district also has a projected fund balance of $3.64 million, or 15.8% of total spending, Sobocinski said.
Although the budget is balanced, it could be affected by several unknown factors, including enrollment-based state aid, Sobocinski said.
Enrollment figures won’t be certified until the third week of September.
With the district considering a possible spring 2016 referendum to upgrade district facilities, board members voiced concern about having to use a portion of fund balance to offset any budget shortfall this fall.
Reducing the fund balance could jeopardize the district’s credit rating, members noted.
“It’s best not to take any (from fund balance), but it’s too early to say,” Sobocinski said. “State aid is a moving target, but our aid should go up.”
Lightner said it’s also too early to predict the budget’s impact on the 2015-16 tax rate due to uncertainties in state aid and the district’s property tax base.
“We’re very hopeful that it will affect the mill rate in a positive way,” he said.
The board will consider a second draft of the budget in summer.
Also on Monday, the board approved five-cent increases in school lunch prices. The new prices will be $2.25 per meal in elementary schools, $2.45 at the middle school and $2.60 at the high school.
Staff lunches will increase to $3.25 and include milk if desired. Milk will continue to cost 35 cents per carton.