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Darkness falls over BV’s finances

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 7:56 p.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 8:00 p.m. CST

MANLIUS – A power outage during a winter storm at Bureau Valley High School on Monday night did not stop board members from conducting regular monthly business. 

After the meeting was called to order, a near two-hour closed session took place, which forced a large number of students, staff and community members to wait in the lobby of the district office. During this time, lights continuously flickered on and off, which eventually activated the building’s emergency backup lights.

When open session of the meeting reconvened, the board room was lit by only two backup lights, which left some board members and the audience relying on the light of their cellphones to read their agendas.

The dark environment set the mood as Superintendent Dennis Thompson discussed the district’s rapid, dwindling finances.

“It’s a reality when we started this school year, and it’s the reality when we close this school year,” he said.

He provided a brief recap about where the district stood financially and reminded the public of the board’s decision to sell nearly $3 million worth of bonds in the fall.

“That mostly was to keep us running,” he said. “The expectation is and was to have that money last for at least three years, and the question that the board has asked me periodically is, ‘Are we going to make it … the next three years?’”

The district was forced to add $1.5 million of the bond money to this year’s budget — $1.25 million, alone, made up the district’s education fund. Thompson confirmed the budget’s expenditures were on track half-way through the fiscal year, showing expenses at 49 percent.

“If the education fund is at 49 percent in the middle of the year, it should be at 95.6 percent of expenditures by the end of the year, which will mean we will already have burned through a good chunk of that (bond) money,” he said. “You cannot divide … three by three and get something more than a million dollars a year.”

Based on Thompson projections, if Bureau Valley continues spending at the pace they have been, the bond money will be drained before the end of three years.

“You’ve spent more money than you’ve received,” Thompson explained to the board. “These last two or three years you’ve had, kind of, a whole group of things. You’ve had lower general state aid, and then along with increasing of expenditures ... you’ve had lower transportation reimbursement ... Then you had corporate personal property taxes taken away from the building fund to go to the Regional Office of Education. So that’s it; you hit it at the wrong time to be poor because it just makes you poorer, faster.”

Quick, tough decisions need to be made at Bureau Valley. Thompson hopes to provide a starting list of district items to cut some time next month. He anticipates making final decisions on cuts by the end of the school year. The board will be looking at every aspect of funding in order to get a control on budgeting for the next two years.

“All I can say is we’re going to have to cut something, and it’s going to have to be deep. There’s $7 million of this budget that’s personnel. So it’s going to involve personnel. We’ve got to be aware that those are the things that have got to be done.”

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