County Education Fiscal Oversight
The County Superintendent of Schools office serves as the intermediary between the state and local school districts and charter schools within the county. One of the primary responsibilities of the County Office is to provide services to and oversight of the individual districts’ budgets. This does NOT mean the County Office determines how schools allocate their resources. That is determined by the individual school and approved by its Board.
The role of the County Office regarding fiscal services to the school districts is partially driven by law. These laws were put into place to help districts who may be headed for financial crises. By requiring the district to prepare and the County Office to review “interim” reports 2 or 3 times throughout the school year, we can determine if the district is fiscally solvent. Those reports are then certified as either “positive,” “qualified,” or “negative,” depending on the financial condition of the district. If a district has a “qualified” or “negative” 2nd interim report, a 3rd report will be required which needs to reflect changes to the budget designed to keep the district out of a fiscal crisis. If the Board of any district fails to file one of these interim reports, the County Superintendent of Schools has the authority to withhold state or county school monies from that district and can deny the approval of any warrants issued by the district.
The State Superintendent of Public Instruction has created a standard reporting process used by all districts that will show whether a district can meet its financial obligations for the current school year and two subsequent years. Each district is required to maintain a minimum “reserve” amount in their budget. If a district fails to show that it can maintain the required reserve levels for the current year and two subsequent years, the district must certify a “qualified” or “negative” interim report. Reserve levels are based on a formula and are different for each district.
In the current economy, 174 districts statewide have filed a “qualified” or “negative” interim report for the 2009-2010 school year (1 in Calaveras and 2 in Tuolumne County). This is not due to any fiscal mismanagement on the part of the district, but because of decreased funding and declining enrollment.
With the dismal state budget and late budget approval dates for the past several years, school budgeting has become a very tricky process. In addition, schools have been hit with mid-year cuts which require a major overhaul of their original budget halfway through the school year. This would be like your family creating a household budget based on your anticipated annual income…only to have that income slashed halfway through the year. Now you must make your house payment, car payment, buy groceries, pay your utility bills, etc. with significantly less money than you originally planned for. It’s not easy, but it’s what we have to do. The next time you see someone from the business office of your local school district, give them a pat on the back. They are working miracles!