This year I have the pleasure of serving, again, on the Gainesville / Brentsville District budget committee. The people serving on this committee, who all volunteered to spend several hours almost every Sunday night examining the school division’s budget and even more time reviewing the budget in advance of the Sunday meetings, amaze me. We are teachers, nurses, CPAs, CFA,s engineers, lawyers, and Moms and Dads. We come from all walks of political life – conservatives, liberals, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, and gosh darned independents. The one tie that binds us is our commitment to our public schools. We may not agree on any other political issues, but we all agree that our teachers and our children’s classrooms have been stretched beyond the breaking point. We willingly volunteer hours of our personal time to try to find the pennies that may have been missed that might help our teachers and our classrooms.
Those of you who follow this blog know that we struggled a bit last year with some of the answers we got from school division staff. Some of the budget lines seemed odd to us, with projections that had little relationship to the past actuals. I was worried that we’d encounter more of the same this year.
We haven’t. In fact, we’ve found the opposite.
I’m not sure if it’s that we understand better or if the projections are more accurate, but the budgets we’ve looked at so far are things of beauty. We still have a few questions, but these budgets are easy to follow and the numbers seem reasonable. The discussions from the department heads at the work session were amazing! They were clear, concise, and answered questions they thought we’d ask before we even asked them! The entire committee is very impressed by how these budget discussions have gone thus far.
I know that some people believe the school division is using money inappropriately, that the budget is full of fraud, waste, and abuse. If there’s fraud, neither the external nor the internal auditors have found it. I’m not sure what waste there is, unless you consider certain programs to be wastes. Based on what I’ve seen, the school division’s budget is lean, they are stretching every penny they can, and things are simply not being done or taking longer than they should because of inadequate resources.
This doesn’t mean we’ve gone all Pollyanna on the school division. We still have questions about the CIP and several key areas in the budget. But, based on what we’ve seen, the school division isn’t hiding legions of money in their budget.
This chart lists the accounts we considered “utilities”. It lists the budgeted and actual expenses for those accounts from the 2010 through the 2013 school year and the budgeted amounts for 2014 and 2015.
As you can see, it appears that these accounts have been over budgeted by $5.9 – $8.9 million for the past several years.
Each year in the 2nd quarter budget update, which is typically in January, the school division has noted projected savings from a number of different places. The amount of those savings from utilities for the 2010, 2013, and 2014 school years is noted in the sheet as SAVINGS (2nd Qtr Update). I couldn’t find the 2nd quarter budget updates from the 2011 and 2012 school years, so they aren’t listed.
As you can see, there appears to be some money in these accounts that we might be able to use in the 2015 school year. I’m not sure how much that will be, especially considering the fact that PWCS will open one new school in 2015 and will replace a smaller school with a more energy efficient, but larger, new school. But, at least based on this cursory glance, it does appear that there might be some excess in this budget that the school division could use elsewhere.