COLUMBIA — When the Columbia School Board votes on Columbia Public School District's 2009-2010 operating budget, as the board is likely to do at a meeting Thursday evening, that budget will be balanced for the first time since the 2001-2002 fiscal year.
"It is a sense of relief and accomplishment," said Linda Quinley, director of business services for Columbia Public Schools and school board treasurer. "It has been a challenge to get there because we have had to reduce positions and services. Our revenues are not going to grow proportionally with our needs, so it has been a challenge to get to a balanced budget position."
Members of the public can look at the 132-page draft budget from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the district administration building, 1818 W. Worley St., and at Business Services, 916 Bernadette Drive, or download a PDF version online at www.columbia.k12.mo.us.
Public comment will start at 6 p.m. Thursday before the board's vote.
The change of having a balanced operating budget, which covers items such as salaries and funds to run the schools, was intentional on the part of a Board of Education finance committee created in December, Quinley said.
“We intentionally have spent down reserve balances," she said. "Since we have had lower balances than we have had historically, it is important to start operating in a break-even annual budget to protect those reserve balances.”
The new breakdown of the funds toward compensation give the board members a better feeling about everything they are paying for in that category, Quinley said.
“It more clearly meets some of the recommendations that were made in our auditor’s report from last year regarding budgets for salaries for all staff members inside the operating budget,” she said.
District administrators and business services worked with the finance committee in creating the budget, which overall is $201,383,498. The operating budget makes up the lion's share: $157,930,597. Money not included in the operating budget is called "special funds" and covers capital projects, debt service, food services, student activities, adult education and grants and donations, Quinley said.
Although the operating budget is balanced, the entire budget is not because of funds for the new elementary school, Alpha Hart Lewis.
The district has sold bonds totaling $20 million since April 2008 and still has some funds in the bank to pay for the construction as it occurs, Quinley said. Although that creates a deficit in next year's capital project budget, it doesn't create a deficit in the capital project fund, she said.
The draft budget reflects $4.3 million in cuts. Combined with cuts made last year for the 2008-2009 budget, $12 million has been pared from district expenses, according to documents prepared by the district for board members.
Members of the public can comment on the budget before the board meets to vote. Public comment starts at 6 p.m. at the district administration building, 1818 W. Worley St. People can look at the draft budget in advance online or at two locations.
Although they are likely to approve the budget on Thursday, board members don't have to. If they want to make changes to the budget, they can schedule a meeting before June 30, which is the state-mandated deadline for submission.
"The board has been involved in the process," Quinley said, "and I anticipate they will adopt the budget Thursday."