By Nancy Gutierrez
While school districts like Visalia Unified and Fresno Unified are struggling to balance their school budget, the foresight of the Lindsay Unified School District board, Superintendent Janet Kliegl and Business Manager Les Henson has allowed LUSD teachers and administrators to breath a sigh of relief, for now at least.
There was no need for the board to issue lay off notices to employees after Henson explained at the LUSD board meeting March 8 that the district would have a positive fund balance at the end of the fiscal year.
State law says certificated employees, which includes teachers, must be notified of possible layoffs by March 15. Because the state budget has not been released districts are unsure if the state will issue large cuts in funding. As a precautionary measure, districts issue layoff notices to employees but may not actually eliminate all of the positions until the results of the final state budget are known.
"Other districts are anticipating an increase in expenditures greater than anticipated revenues from the state," Henson said. "We are in a similar situation but have a healthier fund balance this fiscal year which will be used to offset the greater expenditures next year versus the revenues. Other districts don't have as healthy a fund balance as we do."
This healthy budget was made possible through several budgeting strategies. First was a LUSD board policy that mandates the district to maintain a 5 percent reserve. The state requires school districts to maintain a 3 percent reserve of funds that cannot be used. Henson said many district struggle to maintain that reserve. While LUSD is projecting a conservative preliminary budget for next year, the district reserve is slightly more than 5 percent. Henson said the excess is enough to cover the anticipated state deficit but the district is proceeding with caution.
"Next year we can dip into the fund and still have slightly over the 5 percent board policy," he said.
Henson said the district maintains the 5 percent reserve by not increasing expenditures wherever possible, though there are expenditures, like salaries, benefits and utilities, that are beyond the districts control.
"But by being conservative and maintaining the level of expenditures versus the budget we are able to maintain a 5 percent reserve," he said.
Instead of issuing layoffs, the district has been attending conferences looking for teachers to hire. Assistant Superintendent Andrew Bukosky reported that he had attended two conferences looking for recruits to fill teaching positions in math and dual immersion classes.
The board approved a positive budget certification that the district would meet its financial obligations for the current fiscal year and subsequent two fiscal years.
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