Saline Area Schools is creating new teaching positions for the first time in a decade.
Due largely to the special education millage approved by voters this spring, the district is budgeting for an extra $2.2 million in revenue for 2016-17. Assistant Superintendent for Finance Janice Warner presented the district's fiscal outlook at a budget session before the regular Board of Education meeting Tuesday.
The extra funding means:
- Five new elementary teaching positions. The district's new class size policy focuses on smalleer classrooms at the elementary level.
- Two new special education positions.
- Restoration of building discretionary funds to 100 percent of their allocation. Schools have had their allocations cut for years.
- Continued support for "next generation" classrooms.
- Support positions in the area of technology and operations.
- A new communications specialist position, who will held the district with public relations and with crisis communications.
- The purchase of six used school buses.
- $200,000 set aside for future technology.
- $250,000 set aside for future capital projects.
Superintendent Scot Graden putting money away for future projects is something the district hasn't done in years.
"This is what good budgeting looks like," Graden said.
For years the district endured difficult financial struggles, caused by the state's funding cuts and requirements that districts pay more for retirement. In Saline, the picture looked worst in 2011-12, when the district's fund balance was depleted and it faced another large deficit. At the end of that year, the board presented a tough budget that called for layoffs in the teaching and support ranks. To avoid layoffs, the teachers and support unions agreed to concessionary contracts.
"We've been working lean for a long time. Everybody gave something to keep things running," Trustee Craig Hoeft said. "It's good to see improvement."
According to Warner, the district will finish the 2015-16 year with a one-year deficit of $440,000. The district has recorded $55.8 million in expenditures and $55.3 million in revenues.
The shortfall will cause the fund balance to fall to $3,445,237, or 6.19 percent of the general fund budget.
In 2016-17, the district will see $2 million in new special education funding from the county. This is as a result of the millage voters approved in May. The district will receive an extra $608,000 in state funding this year as a result of the state's $119 per pupil funding increase. The district expects another $365,000 from the sales of homes on the old Houghton school property.
In all, Warner projects $57.6 million in revenue against $57.2 million in expenditures. That results in a $377,000 surplus that would raise the fund balance to $3.8 million, or 6.7 percent of the general fund budget. Although that number doesn't include the $450,000 stashed away for future tech and capital projects.
Warner also noted that the district will have spent $1.3 million from its bond fund by the end of this fiscal year. About $33.3 million will be spent during the 2016-17 year, which begins in July.
The positive financial news may get better for the district if the Michigan Senate follows the Houses' lead on a bill which would give districts more freedom in using sinking fund millage dollars. Currently the district can only use sinking fund dollars on bricks and mortar projects. House Bill 4388, passed with bipartisan support, would allow districts to use those voter-approved dollars on security and technology upgrades.
If passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor, it would give the district more flexibility in spending its dollars.