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Gainesville school system may face deficit

POSTED: May 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

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The Gainesville school system could end the fiscal year with expenses exceeding revenue, the district’s finance chief told the city Board of Education on Monday night.

But when board member David Syfan pressed on how much the deficit might be, Janet Allison declined to give an amount.

She said she has an idea, but "would prefer not to go out on a limb with that."

Allison said the final amount hinges on "getting payroll coding issues cleared up," and the district is several weeks from completing that chore.

Syfan countered, "Here’s my problem. We have people come to us and (say), ‘We’d like to do this...’ Every year, we have wish lists. I struggle somewhat with how much consideration — or how much time — we need to spend on wish lists when you’re telling me we’ll have a deficit."

The discussion came as part of the board’s preliminary discussion of the 2008-09 budget, including a look at possible revenues and expenditures.

The 2007-08 fiscal year ends June 30.

Under further questions by Syfan, Allison said the district might have to take out a short-term loan to finish this budget year and then deal with it as a budget item in the next fiscal year.

"And that could have an impact on the (tax) rate?" he asked.

"Yes," she said.

The district has been working this year, including with consultants, to correct "many bookkeeping errors with entries during the past year, meaning most data is not correct," according to a Feb. 10 memo from Allison and Superintendent Steven Ballowe.

The report notes challenges associated with the system’s conversion to new accounting software, troubles regarding Allison’s predecessor and the retirement of a key department member.

Former finance director Angela
Adams now works for the Buford school system and has declined to comment on the matters concerning the Gainesville system.

Syfan told Allison that she has "been placed in a tough spot" and the board isn’t "assigning blame" to her for the accounting woes.

"Unfortunately, you’re the person we have to ask for information," he said.

Next year’s budget, which begins July 1, looks to be tight, as well.

In a written report to the board, Allison projected that the system could generate $59.2 million in revenue, including an estimated $1.56 million midterm adjustment from the state next year.

Allison also projected $58.5 million in expenses, not including $964,000 for a new Gainesville Middle School roof. Including the roof, expenses would run $59.4 million — or $200,000 over revenues.

The school system is building a new Gainesville Middle School off Jesse Jewell Parkway and plans to turn the current Gainesville Middle building into a ninth-grade academy for Gainesville High School.

"We need a new roof. I think we all agree we need a new roof," Syfan said. "But it’s really hard to even think about a million-dollar roof if we’ve got a deficit."

Directing his comments to Allison, he added, "I’m not asking to be hard on you, but I just need the information — we all need the information — in trying to decide how to handle this."

Allison said, "And I understand that, I do, but I’m in a little bit of a quandary as to going out on that limb because I don’t know which way those (payroll) changes are going to affect what we’ve projected."

Ballowe said that school officials "may have to do some cutting before we come back to you."

"You need to have a more definite figure," he said.

He said that school districts would like to set aside 5 percent of their budget for surplus.

"We actually cut into our (surplus) over the last couple of years doing physical plant improvements and things such as the new (Gainesville High) band room, et cetera," Ballowe said.

"It’s time to build that (surplus) back."

School administrators use the surplus, commonly called a carryover, to figure into the next year’s budget.

District officials plan to present a more detailed draft of the budget at the board’s work session set for May 5. The meeting, which will take place in the district’s main office at 508 Oak St., is set to begin at 5 p.m.

The board plans to adopt a tentative budget for next fiscal year on May 19 and a final budget on June 16.

Public hearings are set for 10 a.m. May 28 at New Holland Core Knowledge Academy and 6 p.m. May 29 at Gainesville High School.



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