The Houston Board of Trustees met this week to review where the Houston School District had planned to be at this point in the fiscal year and where they actually are at the end of March.
“The board reviews the budget in detail every quarter to make sure the district is headed in the direction they want to go,” said Houston Superintendent Dr. Steve Coker. “We also make adjustments as necessary and talk to them about federal and state legislation that might make a difference in the next budget year.
“We like to keep the books balanced and clean,” Coker added. “We also don’t like surprises at the end of the year for either trustees or taxpayers.”
The Houston School District has an $18 million budget and the school fiscal year begins in July. Approximately 85 percent of the district’s budget is for salary and instruction. The remaining 15 percent is used to fund expenditures at the district’s five schools and central office.
“Payroll expenditures are, for the most part, fixed by teacher contracts and they pretty much remain steady through the fiscal year year,” said Coker. “Trustees like to stay abreast of that other 15 percent and keep a very close eye on those numbers.”
Coker said rising gas prices have prompted the district to spend more on fuel than they anticipated. He said that increase has been countered expenses to heat building during a relatively mild winter.
Coker added the third quarter is typically where the district anticipates exactly where it will end the fiscal year and starts looking at the next budget year.
“I am proud to report that we are three-quarters through our budget year and we have spent just under three-quarters of our budget,” said Coker. “Yes, we are a little higher on some line items than we anticipated, but that is also part of the reason we have these quarterly meetings.”
The budget can only be changed by board action and trustees meet quarterly to transfer money from accounts that have gone over budget from line items that are under budget.
And while schools are not businesses and don’t have a profit margin, they do have a fund balance. And planning how to spend those funds is a critical financial planning function of the board.
Coker said those monies are typically used by the district for capital expenditures.
“We have not bought buses in several years and that is one area we will be looking at this summer,” said Coker. “We are also still looking to get the roof fixed at the School for Science and Technology and after that we certainly want to look at doing something to the concrete road that goes around the high school.”
Coker said trustees were also informed this week that federal stimulus money allocated over the past several years appears to be drying up.
“Unlike some districts, our board chose not to use stimulus money for personnel and on-going expenses,” said Coker. “I think our board was wise to invest in equipping our schools with technology and computers and right now we are sitting pretty in that regard.”