Gladstone schools face tight budget

GLADSTONE – While Gladstone Area Schools may have been better prepared financially for the extreme weather that struck the region this winter than other districts, funds are still tight as the district wraps up the year and prepares for next fall.

“The budget is tight. We had good news at kindergarten enrollment, it’s always good news in an election year, but it’s very, very likely that we will be talking budget cuts in June to try to make sure that we get through next year on firm financial footing,” said Gladstone Superintendent Jay Kulbertis.

Because the district set a high budget for snow plowing with the intention of recouping any budgeted funds that remained unused at the end of the winter, the amount of available funding was very close to the actual costs of snow removal.

“I think actually it’s pretty fortunate that we came in within budget on that,” said Board Vice President Linda Howlett.

The district also managed to keep utility costs low over the winter months – and even managed to save money.

“Our natural gas expenditures are only up $8,000 which is a lot if it was your combined household, but for a school district it’s not a budget breaker,” said Board Secretary Steve Tackman. “Interestingly enough too, our electricity cost were down $25,000, and so between those two major utilities the net effect was positive.”

The board believes the low electricity costs and the comparatively minor increases in the school’s natural gas bill are the result of the bond construction project upgrades making school buildings more efficient.

“To have a savings with the kind of weather we’ve had shows we’ve made some significant progress,” said Howlett.

One struggle for the board is dealing with the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, commonly known as MPSERS. While ceive state funding to help address the costs of the program, that money is expended almost immediately.

“The way the state decided to disperse this MPSERS offset, they give it as a revenue in one chunk and you expend it by individual so it hits all of the personnel lines in every category of expenditures,” said Kulbertis.

The board noted the MPSERS offset payments were where state funding was focused for school districts.

“So when the governor and the legislators say they spent more on education this year, there it is. It’s not in the classroom, and it’s not anywhere else,” said Board President Steve O’Driscoll.

Even with utility savings and an appropriate snow removal budget, the district is now functioning with a fund balance of roughly $85,000. The operating budget of the district is roughly $12 million.

“We’re now dipping down less that 1 percent, it seems a little risky. I know we haven’t had significantly more than that, but I’m a little bit concerned,” said Board Trustee Paul Capodilupo.

It was noted the fund balance has always been below the level recommended by auditors – 10 percent of the budget – but functioning with a fund balance below 1 percent was especially risky for the district and that changes would need to be made.

“We run very, very efficiently. There’s not too much to trim but we’ll keep looking,” said Kulbertis.