District faces ‘tight’ budget

Published 6:29 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The proposed FY 2012 budget for the Butler County School District is “a very tight one,” says the district’s chief financial officer, Brandi Autrey.

In light of the county’s and state’s continued economic woes, the announcement came as no surprise to the board members at Thursday night’s special called meeting, the first of two planned budget hearings.

Autrey said $6 million was anticipated in local tax revenue with approximately $18.25 million coming from the state and nearly $4.75 million in federal monies.

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“That local amount sounds like a lot, but only $3.2 million of that actually goes into our General Fund,” said Autrey.

“And when you consider much of it is designated for certain programs and cannot be used anywhere else, and a large portion goes to the 2007 bond debt, we actually only have $800,000 to use at our discretion. We definitely need to see our local tax revenue increasing.”

Looking back at the five-year history of ending General Fund balances, there was a balance of approximately $3 million in FY ’06, climbing to more than $4.25 million in FY ’08 and then a drastic drop in FY ’09 to less than $1.5 million due to the weakened economy and proration.

The GF ending balance continued its downward slide in ’10 and ’11, dropping to $1,119,000, less than the $1.7 million (one month’s operating expense) required by the state as reserve funds.

“However, the state is not making a big issue with districts about having the money; we just have to have a plan in place,” said Autrey.

For the end of FY 2012, Autrey anticipates an increase in the GF balance, with $1,228,000 expected—the first increase in those monies in four years.

“So you are projecting we will not fall into a deeper hole over these next 12 months?” said board member Joe Lisenby.

“Yes, sir, that is what we foresee, but it all depends on proration,” Autrey replied, agreeing with Lisenby that creating a budget is “an educated guesstimate.”

“I don’t think the general public knows that many school systems in the state are in terrible shape compared to us,” said Lisenby. “Some have already been borrowing money for a while to stay afloat.”

A bright spot in the budget report came with the announcement of an increase in funds for the 21st Century afterschool program.

Funded by federal grants, the monies allotted now total an impressive $325,000, $37,000 more than was anticipated for FY ‘12 and a huge increase over the $50,000 originally allotted to Butler County’s afterschool program in 2001.

Greenville Middle School and W.O. Parmer Elementary School were each awarded $100,000, with $125,000 awarded to Georgiana and McKenzie schools.

“With that extra $37,000, we want to add Greenville Elementary to this program,” said Amy Bryan, director of federal and special programs for the district.

Superintendent Darren Douthitt praised Bryan and her fellow grant writers for the increase in funding for the afterschool program.

“I am tickled to death about this. This program certainly makes our schools more user-friendly.”

The 21st Century Community Learning Center is the only federal  grant program specifically designed to provide funding for afterschool programs.  The program helps students meet state and local requirements in core subjects such as math and reading and offers a number of enrichment activities and educational services, including improvement in family literacy, to the participants.

Citizens will have a second opportunity to hear the budget explained and to ask questions at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6 at the Central Office Boardroom.  The next regular meeting of the Butler County BOE is set for Sept. 15.