Reserves key budget concern for board

By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ staff writer

The Clovis Municipal School Board gave tentative approval Wednesday night to a $44.9 million budget for the upcoming school year, but several members objected to a spending plan that could cut the district’s cash reserves by as much as $500,000.

Board member Mark Lansford asked Maxine Hinderliter, the district’s retired assistant superintendent for finance who prepared this year’s budget, what the district plans to do if its $1.8 million cash reserve is exhausted.

“If we continue on, in 3 1/2 years we will be out of our cash reserves, and then what will we do?” asked Lansford.

“The state will have us where they want us,” Hinderliter replied. “They don’t want us to have any fund balance.”

The district’s written budget calls for the cash reserve to drop from $1,787,248 this year to $1,591,837 at the end of next year, but Superintendent Neil Nuttall said expenses will likely exceed revenues by $300,000 to $500,000.

“I think we need to go back to the legislature and say that the $1.8 million (maximum) limit (on fund reserves) is not enough cushion to have the flexibility to meet unexpected funding needs,” Nuttall said.

“Obviously we have to keep looking at ways to spend less money. What I see us doing is reducing programs, programs that are not core programs mandated by statute …”

Nuttall declined to list the programs that could be cut.

Board member Terry Martin said districts statewide are struggling to meet state mandates, and those districts with reserves are being pressured by the state Legislature to spend.

“It seems like they are penalizing good stewards, and those who are not good stewards are reaping the rewards,” Martin said.

While next year’s budget is more than $3 million higher than the current year, Nuttall said much of the increase stems from state-mandated increases in teaching and other salaries.

“If we do talk to the state legislators, we do need to remember that they funded the salaries,” Nuttall said. “What’s really getting us is these other expenses such as health insurance.”

In other business:
• The board also approved a salary scale for its teachers and staff that includes the state-required pay increases.

“I realize a lot of this is state mandated, but some of (the budget increases are) not,” Lansford said. “Do we have any idea how we compare with other districts?”

Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Jim McDaniel said the new rules make it very difficult to compare one district’s pay scales to another but said he doesn’t see the new scales being out of line with other districts.

“We’re comparable — a little low, but we’re comparable,” McDaniel said.