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Spending, not revenue, ­source of budget problem for city schools

Budget documents show expenditures of $3.2 million more than projected revenue

POSTED: June 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Gainesville city school officials keep talking about revenue shortfalls, but budget numbers show that the school district has been shelling out plenty of money this fiscal year.

The district projects that by June 30, the end of this fiscal year, it will have spent $50.8 million, or $3.2 million more than the $47.6 million projected in expenditures when the City Board of Education approved the 2007-08 budget last June.

The school system is expected to end the year with $46.8 million in revenue, bringing about a projected deficit of $4 million.

But if it had spent what it had budgeted in expenses this school year, or $47.4 million, the deficit would be $614,171. The difference between that deficit and the deficit being projected by the school system is $3.4 million.

Some of the biggest areas of spending are instruction, largely comprising salaries and benefits, which jumped to $34.7 million from $30.9 million; technology support, $190,000 to $905,349; student transportation, nearly $1.9 million to about $2.3 million; and general administration, $947,998 to nearly $1.2 million.

A couple of areas fell sharply, including maintenance operations, which dropped to $3.8 million from $5.1 million; and instructional support, which dropped to $763,533 from $1.5 million.

Superintendent Steven Ballowe, now back from a vacation to Russia, couldn’t explain the wide disparities in budget figures, deferring to chief financial officer Janet Allison.

"When you get back to the amounts on that, it’s all people," he said. "There was a big push to continue at the middle and high schools with the academies last year, and people — that’s the heart and soul of our budget."

Ballowe said he doesn’t keep a line-item copy of the budget in his office.

Allison didn’t return phone calls or e-mails Wednesday.

Board member Kelvin Simmons, reached at his office, didn’t want to comment on the budget numbers without seeing a list of them. He seemed surprised, however, by some of the increases and said he would check with Allison for answers.

Board member David Syfan said he recalled a few expenses that would have jacked up budget spending — including $300,000 for buying some land next to Gainesville Middle School — but not nearly to the level reflected by the budget numbers.

One area of finances that would have been difficult to project is skyrocketing fuel costs. The system projects costs for student transportation to climb to $2.2 million from the nearly $1.9 million that was budgeted.

But Keith Vincent, director of maintenance and transportation, who has been in that job since March, couldn’t explain the drop in maintenance and operations budget.

Technology director Keith Palmer said that $905,349 had been intended for technology, but that bookkeeping errors should have spread the expenditures across different accounts.

"The overall budget was the same. It’s just that they’re coded into going into the wrong accounts," he said.

Compounding the city system’s financial woes is a nearly $2.6 million shortfall from 2006-07 fiscal year, which ended last June 30, including a $1.6 million difference between expenses and revenues that year.

That shortfall also includes a $947,468 adjustment made after the 2007-08 budget year started.

Allison explained that adjustment as "the result of two entries," but she didn’t respond to another e-mail seeking further clarification.

The $2.6 million deficit last fiscal year and the projected $4 million deficit this year now combine for a total $6.6 million deficit.

To balance next year’s budget and to pull the system out of the financial hole, school officials are proposing $4.5 million in cuts and a 20 percent increase in the tax rate, or a jump to 8.34 mills from 6.96.

School board members also have handed off a long list of suggested cuts and possible revenue raisers to administrators. School officials spent Wednesday poring over those lists to see what kind of financial impact they would have on next year’s budget.

The school board plans to approve a tentative budget Monday and submit a final budget to the state by June 30.



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