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Local school budgets show signs of tough year; Sidney Gutierrez reduces its projected cash fund balances to less than half from last year

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Interim Superintendent Susan Sanchez and Board of Education President Nicole Austin and other members of the Board of Education discuss budget issues during a Friday special meeting. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)
The RISD Board of Education voted to approve an initial budget for the district for the 2017-2018 academic year of $77,148,220, as shown in this chart provided by the school district. (Submitted Graphic)

Cash fund balances for the local school district and its only charter school have been reduced significantly as a result of last year’s state budget decisions, school board members heard Friday.
The Roswell Independent School District Board of Education voted during a Friday special meeting to approve initial operating budgets for 2017-18 for the district and its charter, Sidney Gutierrez Middle School.
Both budgets reflect some decreases from the previous year, a reflection of cuts required by the state during the 2016-17 academic year.
Significantly, Sidney Gutierrez has reduced its projected cash fund balances to $157,734, compared to $358,111 the previous year.
“We are being very conservative,” said Linda Purcell, RISD business manager. “We don’t want to have too much so that the state claws back some, but we want enough.”
Cash fund balances are basically schools’ reserve accounts. During the 2016-17 state budget crisis, the state took back 2 percent of its state funding for K-12 public schools, which caused Sidney Gutierrez to use some of its cash reserves.
There is also continued concern in the fiscal year ahead about the state asking schools to give back excess cash reserve funds above 5 percent of its operating budgets. That possibility had been discussed by the Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff during this fiscal year.
The school board approved the middle school’s initial operating budget for 2017-18 of $816,127. About $573,688, or 70 percent, is for salaries and benefits. The total budget for the year, which includes money from foundations, grants and capital projects, is now estimated at $872,851.
Principal Joe Andreis thanked the district for the services it provides the school, which include food service and business and accounting services.
“All the services we receive from the district helps us to operate at the level of excellence that we do,” he said.
The middle school, with 66 students, is rated by the state as an “A” school and is often ranked as one of the top middle schools in the state by various groups.
The school board also voted to approve an initial budget for the district and salary schedules for the upcoming academic year.
With the exception of food service workers and drivers, who are receiving a 10 percent wage increase, salaries will remain the same next year as this year, Director of Business Services Mike Notz told board members.
He explained that food service employees also received a 10 percent increase last year after a district review of wages indicated that this category of employee was not at parity compared to similar employee categories.
Full-time food service employees will now earn a range from $16,404 a year for first-year, entry-level staff to a high of $33,646 a year in base pay for an experienced driver. Notz said that the district has the funds available to cover the pay increase.
The approved initial operating budget for the district is for $77,148,200, a decrease of $344,291 from the 2016-17 budget of $77,492,511.
The district also has reduced its unrestricted cash balance from $8,594,209 in 2016-17 to $5,322,501 for the upcoming year.
The bulk of the district’s money, 62 percent, is also spent on instruction. Salaries and benefits account for $44.58 million of the $46.25 million in the instruction category.
Notz told board members that a big hit was taken for instructional materials, with $289,007 in expenditures not approved for the upcoming year. Interim Superintendent Susan Sanchez told board members that the district expects to be able to find funds from other categories so that the pinch won’t be felt in the classroom.
A discussion about a consulting group to assist the Board of Education with the superintendent’s search was not held. Board President Nicole Austin said that she is waiting to identify a third consultant before bringing the matter up for a discussion, which she said likely would occur at the June 13 board meeting.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.