Allegan district prepares for worst-case steep student drop in next budget

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

The new budget for Allegan Public Schools accounts for a 55-student loss in enrollment for the 2018-2019 budget.

School board members passed the initial budget June 25. It includes a total of $25,518,733 in spending and $25,535,158 in revenue. If those numbers hold, it would add $16,425 to the district’s fund equity, a measure of how much money the district has saved in the bank at the end of each fiscal year.

District business manager Amy Christman said budgeting that high of an enrollment loss simply represented the trends as represented by spring student count numbers.

“That’s where we were,” she said. “We tend to get a few, and lose some. That 55-students number, I feel confident, is not a ‘we-think-we’re-going-to-lose-these.’ That’s just where we were and the hope is we get additional students.”

As public school districts receive their largest portion of funding on a per-student basis, enrollment drives much of the budgeting.

Superintendent Kevin Harness said, “That budgeting piece is hard to project. We don’t really know until we get to October for the official count. We make an educated guess.”

Recent history shows that playing out in frustrating detail. For last year’s initial budget (2017-18), the district budgeted for flat enrollment, but ended down several students in its blended student count (a calculation based on spring and fall count-days).

Three years ago, for the 2015-16 year, the initial budget accounted for a 35-student loss that turned out to be only approximately 26. Before that, the 2014-15 budget projected a 15-student loss which turned out to be a 34-student loss.

Harness said this past year’s losses did not share a common theme.

“There’s no pattern,” he said. “It’s just a cumulative effect of a lot of smaller numbers. Some move out of state, others move in with grandparents who happen to live in another district. Others drop out.

“We haven’t seen a pattern showing an issue or concern with the district. It’s more of individual circumstances.”

Also on the revenue side of things, federal Title grants were budgeted at lower levels based on estimates that that funding will be cut.

Meanwhile, the district will spend less to match all of those expected losses in funding. Per-pupil state funding also increased by $240 for Allegan.

One reason it can cut costs is that the district had quite a few teacher retirements as well as some resignations.

Christman said that reduced the district’s payroll.

“We had many retirements,” she said. “On average, when 30-plus year teacher leaves, they’re at around $100,000 (in total compensation, including health care). Typically, newer teachers come in lower on the pay scale. We typically average about $40,000 in savings when someone retires.”

Enough adjustments were made like that to allow the district to hire a new social worker at the elementary level.

“Now we have two full-time social workers who service our four elementaries,” Christman said. “Everything else is budgeted at current levels.”

The district ended last year’s budget with $2,691,330, though that number may change pending the district’s annual financial audit. That means the fund was at 10.4 percent of revenue for the 2017-18 year.

For the new budget (2018-19), the district projects it will end the year with $2,707,755 or 10.6 percent of revenues.

“Our unofficial target is a 10 percent fund equity,” Harness said. “I am proud of the fact that budget-wise we’ve been very successful in maintaining a fund balance while at the same time utilizing all the funds available to maximize programs for students.”

He said in recent years the district had not needed to reduce any sports, and in fact had added some. Two years ago, middle school football returned under school control, as did the bowling program.

“We’re adding middle school swimming this coming year,” he said. “And we haven’t had to reduce fine arts or other programs; we’ve added robotics opportunities.”

More budget help is on the way too with the first year of collecting the voter-approved sinking fund, which should generate approximately $500,000 annually. That revenue won’t even be collected until next February or March.

He said the district did not have big plans right out of the gate for the money.

“It can only be used for very specific things, but we’ve got some (heating, cooling and ventilation) work, some work on the roof and some things with improving security at the buildings like adding additional security cameras, that we’ll be working on first. We’ll also use some of it to pay for computer technology.”

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