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Warden School Board discusses '22-23 finances, end of federal relief funding

Jan. 29—WARDEN — Thursday's Warden School Board meeting at Warden High School featured a review and discussion of the 2022-23 school year's finances and the upcoming end to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding.

Finance Director Kassandria Rouleau introduced the year review.

"All the ending fund balances had decreased, except the Debt Service Fund, compared to (2021-22)," she said. "However, the ending fund balances had increased compared to what I had budgeted for the (2022-23) year, except for the ASB fund."

Despite expenditures coming in under budget, they still outpaced the district's revenue, Rouleau said.

"The general fund balance had decreased by $91,000 and the contributing factors would be increased staffing needs, increased athletics costs and increased costs for materials and services," Rouleau said. "Revenues ended at $15.8 million. Expenditures ended at $16.9 million, and the ending fund balance was $3 million."

Rouleau spoke about the district's enrollment, which impacts its apportionment of state funds.

"Enrollment decreased during the 22-23 school year, compared to 21-22. The overall average enrollment was 861," she said. "Thank goodness this year we are definitely looking better."

Rouleau then discussed the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which was enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic in three waves of federal funding for school districts. The second wave of funding, ESSER II, had to be set aside for a specific purpose by September 2023. The third and final wave, ESSER III, has to be obligated by the district by September 2024.

"We have two ESSERS remaining," Rouleau said. "They're both called ESSER III. One we refer to as the ESSER 80% percent and then there's an ESSER 20%. The 20% is very specific on what we can spend it on; the 80% is a little broader."

Rouleau broke down how each ESSER III award is being spent so far.

"On the ESSER III 80%, the district had claimed $1,805,287. The balance remaining was $537,000," she said. "This is the ESSER that we used for our HVAC. We are also using it for our dean of students and some of our psychologists. (On the) ESSER III 20%, the district had claimed $375,000 and the balance remaining was $210,000. We used some of the funding, most of it I would say so far, we supplemented our curriculum expenses. We are allowed to do that, so that was handy."

Board member Shane Cox commented on the eventual end of ESSER funds.

"Basically, payroll and payroll tax was way over what was estimated, and then also our multilingual expenses," Cox said. "We're spending between, correct me if I'm wrong, approximately $100,000-$200,000 more a month as I'm averaging, looking at months compared to previous months in all these budgets. Am I pretty close to that $100,000?"

Rouleau said she would have to conduct a more detailed analysis to confirm the specific number.

"My concern is those ESSERS are leaving, and so we're going to be mindful of how we're spending money going forward, because that $100,000 potentially may not be there in the future to budget or appropriate somewhere else," Cox said. "I'm looking at a year, two years down the road, our little nest egg potentially could be minimal if we're not watching what we're spending going forward this next year."

Despite the end of ESSER, Rouleau said she is still optimistic about the district's financial position.

"I'm looking positively at right now because when we budgeted enrollment numbers ... we are significantly higher than that," Rouleau said. "(The state) should release the January apportionment about Feb. 10 and then they shore up all the numbers, and I think we're going to be pleasantly surprised on some of the increases we're going to receive for our grants and just our regular basic annual amounts ... which should help. But yes, I agree. I am very mindful of where we're going."

Superintendent Scott West provided some input.

"When we do our budgeting for the upcoming years, we talk within our regional superintendent groups and also with (the Educational Service District), and these are some things to look forward to, these are some things to plan ahead for as far as ESSER dropping off, so those are ... areas that we're considering for the future," West said.

Cox clarified why he commented.

"The reason why I bring it up is this is the public forum and I want the community to understand potentially where we could be or what we're facing as far as challenges moving forward," Cox said. "That's why I had this open discussion ... just to have this dialogue in a public forum so people are looking and being mindful."

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com.