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School District Disputes State’s Projections

By Staff | Apr 2, 2009

There’s more to the story than meets the eye.

That saying rings true after reading an article appearing in the Mar. 29 edition of the “Des Moines Register,” entitled “School budget warnings: Transparency, trust collide.” That article has caused many schools to dispute findings by the Iowa Department of Education, which some districts consider inaccurate.

The Emmetsburg Community School District was included on the list of 103 Iowa schools that had been notified by the Department of Education that they were operating “in the red” for the upcoming 2010 budget year. The article did state, however, that Department of Education officials warned that the state’s projections may not be as accurate as local school district’s numbers.

Emmetsburg Community School Superintendent John Joynt noted that the district had received a warning letter from the Iowa Department of Education in February, which Joynt immediately disputed.

“The ‘Des Moines Register’ article in Sunday’s paper listed our district as a district in financial trouble. This is not accurate,” stated Joynt. “We’re going to be fine.”

Joynt explained that the budget for the school district is developed by using 16 pages of worksheets and spreadsheets. It was predicted that the district would have a positive “unspent authorized budget.”

“Jim Addy of the Department of Education reviewed just three cells on our Unspent Authorized Budget Report excel spread sheet,” said Joynt. “Mr. Addy’s prediction is correct, if you only review those three spread sheet cells and not other related input. He did not review our current spending pattern, that has reduced, and he did not review our growth in spending authority.”

Joynt added that more than a decade ago, the district began making staff reductions and spending reductions due to declining enrollment.

“In addition, the state cut our growth rate from 4 percent to 1 percent some years and 2 percent on others,” Joynt said. “The staff reductions kept our district solvent. Our district did not use all the spending authority we had and it built up.”

Recently, state funding has returned to 4 percent growth and the district began purchasing needed items. In addition, needs accumulated from the days of 1 percent and 2 percent growth. That spending cut into the school’s build-up of unspent authority.

Joynt noted, “This is the third year of spending more than we have authority for. Spending, and reducing our unspent authorized budget, has been monitored by me, Pat [board secretary] and the board. We have cut back on spending this year but it should be the last of overspending our authority and using up some of our unspent authority.”

He added that if the schools need curriculum materials or technology, the district is willing to tap into the unspent authority to a small degree.

“That is why you build your unspent balance, to use it when needed,” said Joynt. “The good news is that we have seen growth in our spending authority that Mr. Addy did not consider. By increasing 43 students this year, our spending authority increased for this year and next year. We have overspent our special education funding and have applied for, and received, authority to spend that amount.”