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Budget time: How Collins tried to maintain Traver's rate



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July 10, 2012 | 03:26 PM
LINN — In a way, Craig Collins couldn't have asked for a better situation in creating Traver School's proposed 2012-13 budget of $2.24 million.

Sure, the economy and the state's restrictions don't make compiling a public school budget easy.

Sure, creating a public school budget was something Collins said earlier this year would likely be one of his greatest challenges in taking over as Traver administrator.

But in its broad strokes, the 2012-13 budget proposal is "very, very similar" to last year's budget, Collins said, adding there are no major increases across the board.

"We tried to maintain as best we could," he said.

However, there is a slight tax increase in the forecast.

The estimated tax rate for 2012-13 is at $3.75 per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning the owner of property worth $200,000 would pay $750 in taxes to the district.

The 2011-12 rate was $3.71, which meant the owner of that $200,000 property paid $742 in Traver taxes.

The public will have its chance to weigh in on the proposed budget at a hearing Tuesday, July 17, at 8 p.m.

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Typically, the budget is not finalized until the fall.

So how did Collins manage to create a budget close to last year's? He admitted Mary DeYoung, former longtime Traver administrator, helped him work on it.

Collins said he began working on the budget in the spring. "It's a big responsibility," he said. "You want to be as correct as possible."

But this wasn't his first budget.

A former St. Francis de Sales School principal, Collins said he created the budget during his 11 years at that post.

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He said there are differences between creating budgets for public and private schools.

The key one is, with the latter, there's no tax levy.

"You have to project what your tuition (revenue) will be," Collins said. "Tuition (at St. Francis), subsidy from the church and fund-raising, that all has to add up to the expenses."

To create a balanced budget, the expense side should match the revenue. Traver's does not — and, according to the budget notice published in last week's Regional News, has not for the past two years.

Collins said that's traditionally how the Traver budget has been done. He said he focused on presenting a budget with a "conservative" revenue projection.

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"The actual revenue will probably be higher," Collins said.

That was far from the case last year.

In the unaudited 2011-12 figures which were published, the revenue was down from the expenses by more than $42,000.

Collins said last year was when the district discovered it wouldn't receive state aid after the budget was approved.

In the area of state aid, there's some better news predicted this year for Traver.

"We are looking at some Title I money, for the first time a while," Collins said. Title I is a reading education program. "It's something we haven't had here since I've been here."

In the proposed 2012-13 budget, the expenses are more than $3,000 greater than the revenue.

"A lot of this is estimates," Collins said.

He said the proposal is meant to provide board members with as accurate a picture as possible of what finances are needed — and what's coming in.

"When we budget expenses, we do it with what we feel we need to spend," Collins said.

Collins said the board may decide to cut expenses or draw from reserve funds to make ends meet, if necessary.

He said making both sides match may make everything seem balanced, but several budgetary factors — including state aid amounts — are not yet known.

Enrollment

How many students attend Traver is also an important school budget area. Traver, like all public schools, take a head count the third Friday of the school year. This is used to determine how much state aid Traver receives and how much the school needs to operate.

Collins said so far, he believes there will be about 120 students next year.

He said the 2011-12 year began with 114, then ended at 109.

As with the revenue, enrollment is another area in which Collins said he doesn't want to guess too high.

"If that many students don't show, you're already overbudget, so I prefer to be conservative on that," he said.

Collins said between 10 and 12 percent of Traver's students are attending under the state's open enrollment policy. These children don't live in the district, but their applications to attend Traver have been accepted.

"We've been pretty steady," Collins said about enrollment.

He said to come up with enrollment estimates, you look at trends. One came about through the open enrollment policy.

"If families move out of the school district, they seem to like to keep their kids in the school they were at," Collins said. "No child likes to change schools every couple years."

But at a school the size of Traver, it could affect the numbers if one family moves away.

"Always the unknown is people moving," he said. "If we have a family of five and they relocate out of town, that's a big hit for us. Five kids is a lot to a school district this size."

Collins described the budget-making process as evaluating his district's historical data versus allowing those unknowns.

He said he went through each line item and decided how much it should be.

"Sometimes, things are a one-time deal," Collins said.

His example: Redoing the gymnasium floor, which cost between $8,000 and $9,000.

"This year, at this point, we don't have anything like that in the budget," Collins said.

But there are surprises.

"Stuff breaks down," Collins said. "Obviously, everything can't be predicted."

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