Carson City School District officials are seeking opportunities to maximize funding streams for operations and construction as the amended general fund budget, showing a $2 million deficit, for 2019-20 was approved by the Board of Trustees on Tuesday.
Trustees passed a resolution to approve an increase to the budget at Tuesday’s regular board meeting. School districts are mandated by statute to adopt an amendment by Dec. 31 after the final pupil count has taken place.
Dave Silva of Rife Silva and Co. presented the school district Tuesday with a clean opinion on its annual audit, showing the district has a final ending fund balance of $14.1 million, or approximately $2.1 million more than the board’s final budget approved in June.
The budgeted fund balance generally is considered healthy, but district officials and the trustees conceded that any growing deficit in the next five to 10 years with anticipated growth to the area could become problematic. Without a significant boost in per-pupil funding, Superintendent Richard Stokes and chief financial officer A.J. Feuling told the Appeal, it’s important to plan ahead now to accommodate more children to come or to determine where the district can mitigate potential operational increases.
“Our student base is growing, and you’re trying to make suitable — dry, warm, suitable — space, yet spending all that money to do it doesn’t mean you can’t have budget problems on your operational side,” Feuling said.
The original budget approved six months ago was tailored to account for a student increase to happen between school years 2018-19 and 2019-20, and enrollment has grown, according to Feuling. In June, average projections showed nearly 7,778 students and as of Dec. 6, actual enrollment was at 7,783. Feuling, however, pointed out that the lowering impact of the average daily enrollment over an entire school year, expected to drop to 7,740, resulted in a loss of approximately $280,000 in general revenues through the Nevada Plan.
The district also is experiencing a reduction in revenues lost to charter schools due to fewer students attending those outside institutions, Feuling noted in his presentation Tuesday. These factors mean a decline of about $240,000 less in general fund revenues than had been budgeted in June. Expenditures are down as well, Feuling said, so the district remains where it was six months ago.
Carson City also has its capital project needs and those costs to consider, and the district has been progressive in this area throughout the past year. Its examination of the 1600 Snyder Ave., property as a prospective campus and its Eagle Valley Middle School capacity increase to offset Carson Middle School’s overflow and rezoning are major strides to prepare for upcoming enrollment increases. The district also completed tenant improvement projects, such as remodeling or general construction work on Fremont, Mark Twain, Seeliger and Bordewich Bray elementary schools, Carson and Eagle Valley middle schools and Pioneer High School.
Feuling noted these capital projects, as always, still are necessary to make sure there’s still physical space for students and are funded from revenue streams specifically designated for construction. The district continues its work on physical buildings in deference to the community’s preference from returning to portables, most of which have been removed to date, and the schools have regular maintenance needs that come with their own price tag.
Operationally, other opportunities and challenges are still to come in 2020. The district will have to keep up with the certified and noncertified staffing needed to maintain Eagle Valley’s expansion, for example, or to fill positions should the Snyder property be purchased and added as a Carson City school.
Stokes told the Appeal the district has a need to keep support or administrative positions beyond teachers in the classrooms, though it’s harder to attract workers with certain skill sets for jobs such as nurses, bus drivers and other professionals.
“There are costs associated with operating a school, and I’m not sure if people always think of the schools as a place to work especially in a support role, but we’d like people to know (Carson City’s) a good place to work, and the jobs are very good with really well-defined benefits and retirement and insurance,” Stokes said.
Feuling added it’s a double-edged sword to justify the need to hire at a time when the district has a $2 million shortfall, but the jobs, many of which have been posted for some time, are critical to making the schools run effectively on a daily basis.
“We have some great people who, through magic I don’t understand, they’re able to keep it going,” Feuling said. “But it’s definitely stressed.”
At Carson High School, according to Feuling, the district will hire a permanent employee in nutrition services only to lose someone at the same time, and the team works at bare minimum to keep the program going never fully staffed, as do many of the schools’ programs.
Feuling said despite recent changes in state mandates, even as money continues to move, the hope is that the focus remains on the fact that education as a whole isn’t adequately funded all around for Nevada’s districts.
“Every study shows there isn’t enough to do it,” Feuling said. “Everyone has to keep that in mind. ... It’s not enough to do what the state is asking. I feel that gets lost in the conversation, and finally it’s getting recognized that we need more to be doing what we should be doing.”
Stokes said he hopes legislators will reconsider Nevada’s current funding formula for the schools in the next legislative session.
“There had been a number of items identified in statute that were supposed to go toward providing additional funds toward education and sometimes those monies don’t necessarily find their way to the education pot, and I think maybe that needs to be examined more closely as well,” Stokes said.