Friday, March 09, 2007

Budget Analysis

I took Wednesday off to attend a budget analysis training at the Uniserv office.

It’s a humbling experience. I do OK with math, but the sheer volume of numbers they threw at us was staggering, and as you go through the reports it’s amazing to see just how the lump sum from the state is parceled out.

One of the big things they tell us to look for is the reserve fund. If it’s high, that’s money we could be negotiating over. If it’s low, that says something about the financial health of the district. An example is Federal Way. They had about $6.8 million dollars in reserve at the end of last year, but that’s a mere 4.04% of their budget. They’re also consistently last out of the ten schools their size in the percentage that they have in reserve.

For my district, the picture is troubling. We serve Fairchild Air Force Base, so our enrollment is highly volatile based on what happens with the movement of troops around the world. In 2004-2005 we ranked 75th in the state (out of 296) for the percent we had in reserves; in 2005-2006, it dropped down to 159th. When you’re dependent on impact aid, like we are, you want your reserves to stay healthy as insurance against the worst-case scenario.

Another thing that jumps out: if you want to be financially healthy, be really, really small. The healthiest school district in the entire state for each of the last five years: Star, with their reserve a robust 242.35% of their total spending. Where’s Star? There’s Star, in the puckerbrush near (?) Pasco. The humor in their website is that it was last updated May 2nd. Of 1997.

Third healthiest is the likewise miniature Stehekin School District (140.66%), with Shaw Island (162.85%) rounding out the top three.

The most financially insolvent district in the state appears to be Morton, which had -5.79% in their reserve; in other words, a debt of nearly $186,000. Other districts cutting it close include Orcas Island (291st, .37%), Bridgeport (288th, .51%), Quinalt (289th, .48%), Onalaska (-2.03, 294th), Vader (292nd, .13), Granite Falls (293rd, -.45), and the perennially broke Shoreline School District (295th, -3.02%).

Vader is an interesting case; if they don't pass an M&O levy next week, there's every chance that they'll close the entire district. I wouldn't be surprised if you see more of this in the coming decade; if school district consolidation can save money and still give the kids a level of service, isn't it worth looking at?

Update: The state auditor's report on the Morton School District can be found here and here. Glad it's not my district....


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5:25 AM  

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