Shortfall hits MSD’s budget; district audit finds no wrongdoing

MEEKER I At the Jan. 20 meeting of the Meeker Board of Education, district Superintendent Mark Meyer presented his recommended revised budget for the current school year, showing operating expenses of $5,922,357, plus a possible tax abatement return payment to the county of $148,000, totaling $6,070,357.

Revenues of $5,515,778 could result in a $554,519 shortfall for the rest of the year. State law requires that the Fiscal Year 14-15 budget be finalized with any changes by Jan. 31.
Meyer reported that the district started this school year with an unassigned fund balance (reserve) of $3,875,718, equivalent to 7.8 months of operating expenses. Meeting the deficit with part of this reserve would bring the reserve down to $3,321,199, equivalent to 6.7 months of operating costs, with which to begin the FY 15-16 school year. Meyer stated that the district should maintain a reserve of at least 6 months operating expenses.
For the next fiscal year, Meyer said there is hope that the Colorado State Legislature will pass legislation that would provide more state funds for the following year. The board approved Meyer’s recommended revised budget, the quarterly financial report and the necessary appropriation of fund monies.
Large revenue changes reflected in the budget include reductions of 10 percent in local property tax revenues ($520,331—nearly equaling the projected total deficit), $52,515 returned to the state due to the categorical change in the district’s property tax revenues, and a $30,000 (86 percent) increase in food service expenditures.
Increased revenues include $60,532 in mineral lease funds, $11,345 in English Language Proficiency Assessment funds, $5,497 in transportation funds, an equalization grant of $338,428 from the state and $7,964 in Carl Perkins vocational grant funds.
In other action, the school district’s FY 13-14 independent audit, done by Holscher, Mayberry and Co., LLC, of Englewood declared that the financial information reviewed was free from “material misstatement.”
The audit has been available for public scrutiny on the district website since early January. Meyer commented that this was the second year in a row that the district audit identified no concerns, and that this is rare. The board approved the audit as Meyer recommended.
Meyer credited district finance director Janelle Urista with excellent work.
The board set a three-part agenda for their meeting on Tuesday. From 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., the board will hold a public forum for open, no-agenda public comments; from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. the board will hold an executive session to evaluate Superintendent Meyer; then the board will hold its regular board meeting from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The evaluation process will include reviewing responses to surveys completed by the three principals, administrative department directors and the head teacher in each school.
On real estate matters, the board invited Leif Joy of Joy Surveying Co. to give the board advice on the sale of at least part of the old town swimming pool property, immediately down from the high school on School Street.
Joy advised simplifying the property by perfecting a boundary line adjustment with themselves, resulting in one property that would be totally within the town and one that would be totally in the county. He also recommended getting a title commitment on the property before they go further.
On staffing matters, the board accepted the resignation of Hillary Ridgeway as a part-time para-professional and secretary at the elementary school. J.C. Watt and Willy Theos were approved as middle school wrestling coach and assistant coach, respectively.
During the “public comment” portion of the board’s agenda, softball parent Michele Morgan expressed that while she was very supportive of the club softball activity which has been ongoing, she questioned the wisdom of the board approving (in December) the allocation of $16,250 for softball to be a varsity sport given the deficit status of the district.
“Why was this new expenditure approved when most other budgets are being cut?” Morgan asked.
Math and science dual enrollment teacher, Dr. Bob Dorsett, repeated his request to be allowed to teach in his former high school classroom, and he reported that there had been another accident involving a student slipping on ice, injuring a finger, while walking between the high school and his current classroom in the middle school.
Dorsett also asked about some funding issues that he has been unable to track in district financial reports, including: 1) What has happened with monies granted to the high school by the cemetery district? 2) What funds and how much was used to remodel the high school principal’s office last summer? 3) What funds and how much was used to move his classes to the middle school? 4) What is the status of a $135,000 grant it’s reported high school principal Kim Ibach obtained for high school arts? 5) What happened to monies removed from last year’s junior class account for prom expenses, which Ibach said she would repay out of her pocket? 6) How much is spent by the district on tests like MAPs, CMAS, Aspire, ACT, Accuplacer, DIBLS and others, including the tests themselves, substitutes hired to cover test times and related expenses?, and 7) How much did it cost the district to hire the consulting firm for the mill levy override election?
The board offered no response.
Early on at the meeting, the MSD Administration reported that the Meeker Town Board at that very same time was honoring the school board as part of National School Board Recognition Month, which is January each year.
Barone Middle School Principal Jim Hanks read the proclamation being adopted by the town council, which states in part that members are elected “in trust of their diverse communities, and in that capacity are charged with meeting the community’s expectations and aspirations for the public education.”
Further, the proclamation emphasizes that members “are entrusted with the guardianship and wise expenditure of scarce tax dollars … and deserve recognition and thanks for their countless hours of volunteer service.”
In celebration of the board’s service, Elissa Quinteros, Peyton Burke, Jamie Moyer, Delenn Mobley, Linda Lombardi, Leah Pool, Carissa Smith, Korey Hood and Sam Baylie, members of the high school choir, directed by Mr. Jeff Hemingson, performed a “Java Jive.”
Seventh-grade math and science teacher, Dani Feola, sponsored two groups of students who gave reports on their enrichment activities. Phil Arnold, Cody Erickson and Brennan Ibach presented their analysis of hunting success for cow and bull elk in the eight game management units surrounding Meeker. Jake Shelton, Colby Shelton and Taylor Ridgeway reported on their analysis of the cost of hay production on the Shelton Ranch, 2010-2014, as affected by each year’s precipitation.
In open discussion at the end of the meeting, in light of the large budget deficit, board member Todd Shults asked why there was no entrance fee collection or concession sales at either the Jan. 13 wrestling dual with the Moffat County Bulldogs, which was exceptionally well-attended, or Saturday’s basketball contests with the Plateau Valley Cowboys?
“If the district is seriously short of funds,” he pondered, “why isn’t every attempt being made to raise revenue?”
Superintendent Meyer said this question totally blind-sided him and even though high school principal Kim Ibach and athletic director Brett Steinacher were in the room, no response was offered.
MSD Board President Bill deVergie stated that this kind of question was not a board issue.