General fund increase in FY21 budget for county schools

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The Walker County Board of Education's fiscal year 2021 budget reflects a general fund increase and a one-month operating reserve excess.

Chief School Financial Officer John Skalnik presented the budget to board members at two public hearings on Sept. 8 and Sept. 10.   

The approved budget includes financials from Oct. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021.

The school board is estimated to begin the fiscal year with a general fund balance of $7.78 million and end with a general fund balance of nearly $8.3 million.

Skalnik discussed revenues the school system will receive during the fiscal year. Sixty-seven percent of the revenues come from the state, with 27 percent from local sources and 12 percent from federal sources.

The school board is expected to receive roughly $46.8 million in state revenues, which includes over $40 million from the state's Foundation Program. Just over $305,000 will be received through state revenues for the school nurse program, as well as roughly $423,000 for the Alabama Reading Initiative.

The school system also earns over $4.3 million for transportation and just over $936,000 for Pre-K education.  

Federal revenues totaled nearly $7.7 million in all funds combined, including USDA funds of just over $2 million, 21st Century program funding of $488,000, Title I funds of just over $2.5 million, over $126,000 for vocational education, just over $1.9 million regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Act, and other federal funding.

Local revenues include ad valorem funds, county sales tax revenue, and other local revenue sources. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, county sales tax revenue is still coming in strong at over $12.7 million received by Walker County Schools.

Total local revenues are expected at just over $18.2 million. 

State, local, federal, and other revenues are estimated at just over $91.86 million from all sources. 

The bulk of school board expenditures include salaries and benefits of over $55.2 million in the general fund, purchased services of over $3.2 million from the general fund, and materials and supplies purchases of over $8.4 million in all funds combined.

Expenditures also include just over $20,000 in audio/video equipment, nearly $87,000 in athletic and physical education equipment, and other capital outlay expenditures. 

Total expenditures in all funds are estimated at just over $93.2 million.

During the budget presentations, Skalnik discussed how a deduction in local teaching units has saved the school system money and helped allow for an over one-month operating reserve.

"Last year, we were still in a deficit mode," Skalnik said. "With our positive momentum, we've moved from being on the edge of just having a one month's reserve to now [having excess reserve]."

In the fiscal year 2014, the school system had 52.85 local teacher units and, as of the fiscal year 2021, the school system has only 35.06 teacher units — a drop of roughly 10 units from last year.

In the past, Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood has explained that as enrollment drops in county schools, the number of state-funded teaching units also decreases, meaning the school board has to pay for any additional teaching units out of local funds.

"As we lose enrollment, it is impossible to carry on and ignore that," Hagood said.

Thankfully, enrollment numbers are improving. Hagood said the school system has been losing an average of 110 students annually; however, enrollment only dropped by roughly 30 students last year.

The school system's projected enrollment for the fiscal year 2021 is 7,131, and approximately 938 people are employed by the Walker County Board of Education.

After discussing how a reduction in local teaching units has positively impacted the budget, Skalnik said the school system is maintaining a one-month operating reserve and now has $2,166,600 in excess reserve. 

About a year ago, the school system was in danger of not having a one-month operating reserve.

Hagood said now having an excess reserve is a direct result of the school board making tough decisions that have ultimately made the school system more financially secure.

"If we stay the course, which I fully intend to, we should be fine at this point moving forward. The heavy lifting has been done," he said.

When the budget was approved on Sept. 10, school board chairman Brad Ingle said he is encouraged with the school system's financial status, especially in the middle of a global pandemic.

"It's shocking that things are as good as they are this year, but I'm glad it's that way," Ingle said. "I believe we're in good shape. We've got a good budget."

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