BC fund balance key in budget process

While the Bethlehem Central School District managed to grow its fund balance and end the 2008-09 school year under budget, there is concern amongst district officials that these gains could be wiped out in the coming year.

Judith Kehoe, the district's chief business and financial officer, presented to the Board of Education on Wednesday, Nov. 4, the results of the district's yearly, independent audit that is required by state law. The district employs the firm Raymond G. Preusser CPA for the audit as the result of a five-year recurring open bid process.

The audit for the previous year, which ended on June 30, was a favorable one, said Kehoe.

There was a clean opinionthat's what the auditors issue when there is no exceptions with the standards of reporting, she said.

As a whole, the district's reserve fund balance increased by about $713,000 to about $8.8 million. Much of that balance consists of things like workers compensation insurance and extra special education funding that is mandated by the state, so the undesignated fund balance increased to nearly $3 million of the $88 million budget.

That means the district is holding about 3.4 percent of its budget in reserves, up from 3 percent last year, a fact that pleased school officials.

"It's prudent to have a fund balance there in case of emergency," said school board member Matt Downey.

The district's discretionary spending freeze last October and the tiered budget reductions enacted later were largely credited with saving the district money.

"Last year, when we heard that the governor was going to impose the midyear state aid cuts, we reacted in a proactive manner," said Superintendent Michael Tebbano.

The fund balance"which by state law cannot be above 4 percent of the total budget"is also at the heart of the discussion of possible state school aid cuts Gov. David Paterson is threatening. If the proposed mid-year cuts were enacted, Bethlehem would stand to lose $1.6 million in revenue.

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