Cheney School District adopts 2014-2015 budget
The Cheney School District's board of directors unanimously passed the district's $45.7 million 2014-2015 general fund budget at their regular meeting June 25. The amount is just over 8.4 percent more than the district's projected expenses for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, with a projected revenue increase of 7.25 percent over last year's numbers.
Most of the rise in expenses stem from increased basic education staffing costs associated with enrollment growth, mainly salary and benefits that account for 46 percent and 22 percent. The district is projecting a full time equivalent student enrollment next year of 4,103, ending the September-June school year with enrollment of 4,032 FTE students.
The revenue and expenses figures led officials to project a slight increase to the ending fund balance of $10,452, potentially giving the district $2,230,452 in reserves at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.
Most of the financial discussion took place in a public budget workshop June 11. The only testimony given last Wednesday during a public hearing came from Cheney resident Bill Johns, who outlined his concerns in a four-point written statement.
Johns asked the board to restore the 5 percent reserve fund minimum balance, which the board suspended in July 2013 in order to deal with financial uncertainties in state funding. Board president Rick Mount said they are attempting to do so, but since most of the district's expenses are taken up in salary and benefits there is little leftover to cut.
Johns also said the budget contained "another $200,000" for capital project costs at the school's administrative site on Needham Hill, noting in budget discussions last year district staff said no more spending would take place after 2013-2014. Associate Superintendent Sean Dotson said the district is looking to apply for large Department of Education grants to help transform existing space into educational facilities like a science center, and to secure funding the district needs to show it has match money.
Dotson also said a year of full-time occupancy at the former U.S. Air Force communication facility off Andrus Road exposed other needs, such as a now heavily-used conference center with only one bathroom.
"When you have 50-75 people in there, it doesn't work," he said.
In his third point, Johns asked about contingencies in the budget to pay for possible staff raises coming as a result of any negotiations. Mount said it wasn't something the district could discuss in a public meeting since it might put negotiators at a disadvantage, with Superintendent Dr. Deb Clemens adding the district is meeting with local education union representatives but have not addressed compensation.
Finally, Johns requested a line item for a new long range plan be added to the budgeting process, noting that recent comments by district officials about possible expansion to Sunset Elementary School in Airway Heights raised concerns with him about how the district intended to publicly handle projected student growth within its boundaries. Mount and Clemens replied the Sunset expansion, presented in an Airway Heights City Council work-study session, was part of a study done in 2009-2010 by NAC Architects to assist the district's future growth.
"My point is there's no long range plan," Johns said. "2009-2010 is not a long range plan."
Information in the study was used to help the district pass a 2010 bond measure to build two new middle schools and a new elementary school, as well as a hoped for bond measure to remodel the district's high school. Mount said no decision has been made on any expansion to Sunset, while a board vote on holding a high school bond measure sometime in 2015 will come up at the board's July meeting.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.