Webster Parish School Board members unanimously approved the school system's $66.7 million operating fund budget Monday, but system finance director Crevonne Odom reminded the panel that some revisions will still be necessary.
"We have not officially closed the financial records for the year ending June 30, 2014, therefore the fund balances reflected in the budget summaries for July 1, 2014 are only estimates," she said. "However, they are close enough to be used for the 2014-15 operating budget.
Odom said the parish school system would close fiscal year 2013-14 with a deficit around $350,000 to a half million dollars.
"Webster Parish has made painful sacrifices to streamline its finances," she said. "While often it looks like we are fighting a losing battle, I must commend the employees of Webster Parish for making a conscious effort to keep our spending in line with our income."
One cost saving measure has been a cap on salaries, which is now in its fourth year, Odom pointed out. Also, some positions, which opened in the parish system through resignation or retirement, have remained unfilled.
Other general fund budget facts presented by Odom included a seven percent increase in estimated property taxes for fiscal year 2014, a $2.1 million increase in projected Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funds for 2014-15, a .2 percent increase in sales tax revenues, up from the 2.6 percent decrease in 2012-13.
And, the MFP funding for 2014-15 will increase $2.1 million, Odom said. The increase is the result of an increase in per pupil funding from $3,855 to $3,961, and 50 percent of the 2.75 growth factor.
Increases which have an impact on the budget include a 1.7 percent increase in the employer rate for the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System, employer contributions for
hospitalization insurance which went up five percent and the Louisiana School Employees Retirement System employer rate is up 4.7 percent over last year.
Other items expected to cost more in 2014-15 are natural gas and electricity, which will increase by 4.9 percent and 9.2 percent respectively. Another hit to the budget will be the parish-wide cost of the new curriculum for ELA and math, estimated to run $925,716. That, Odom said, is an increase of more than $585,000.
Retirement expenditures take a large chunk of the system's available dollars, Odom pointed out.
"We spent $10.6 million in retirement from fiscal year 2013-14, July 1 to June 30," she said. "For next year, that will be $10.7 million."
Odom pointed out school system funds are grouped according to their legal origin and purpose.
"We use the general fund, special revenue fund, capital outlay fund, debt service fund and student activity fund to account for the resources expended on the stated services," she said.
"The general fund accounts for all resources except those required by law to be placed in a separate fund and it the largest single fund in the account group."
Odom said the parish is still looking at critical times in its budget struggle.
"We have survived four years of staff reductions and salary freezes," she said. "It has been hard and painful, but our parish finances are better because of our sacrifices. It has been and will continue to be a struggle, but we are, step by step, obtaining our goal."