Upper Arlington News

Schools in time of 'self-evaluation,' treasurer says

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Upper Arlington school district finances and an updated five-year financial forecast reflect a period of "self-evaluation," according to Treasurer Andy Geistfeld.

The Upper Arlington Board of Education approved an updated five-year financial forecast at its May 13 meeting.

Geistfeld said the changes were "minimal," since the January forecast had been adjusted to reflect the goals of the district's efficiency project and a new zero-based budgeting strategy.

"We have been working on our efficiency project, looking at what we are doing and why we are doing it and what is best for our students," he said. "We implemented a self-imposed budget freeze on larger budgets and are discussing all expenditures.

"We want to figure out if we have the same priorities for our expenses and are also looking at the timing of purchases to see if we can delay things until we are all on the same page," he said.

Getting on that same page means each department must implement zero-based budgeting, Geistfeld said.

"We want department heads to detail their financial plans for the year and explain why they need each line item in their budget," he said. "Our usual budgeting process was that each department would get what they got last year.

"This time, we want them to start from scratch to see what they actually need, so every year could be different."

The efficiency project is designed to find enough efficiencies to increase the 2017 fiscal year unreserved fund balance by $4.5 million. A productivity and efficiency task force was created to help answer the question, "What are the necessary and essential ways to improve school district operating efficiencies and effectiveness?" Geistfeld said.

He said the district reduced its budget overall this year by $1.2 million because of the self-evaluation process.

"Over the next six months, a portion of this reduction is related to efficiencies and a portion may be reallocated for purchases that were postponed," he said.

Geistfeld said he did not change the projection amounts for years 2015-18 yet on the May forecast -- they are the same as on the January forecast.

"We will be making a more significant revision to the forecast in October," he said. "By then, we will know the year-end budget and who has been hired and replaced.

"We really want to take seriously this effort to do business differently and evaluate all of our expenditures through our efficiency project," he said.

He said changing to a self-insured medical insurance plan in January allowed the district to have more control over health insurance costs and to eliminate new healthcare fees.

"This efficiency allowed for a premium increase for 2014 to be 3.8 percent less than anticipated, which resulted in a cost avoidance of $1.3 million by the summer of 2017," he said.

The revised May forecast anticipates total revenue for the end of this fiscal year (which ends June 30) will be $79,944,450 and total expenditures will amount to $77,894,965. With the cash balance expected to be $32,585,847, the unreserved fund balance is projected to be $30,020,543.

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