Where did the money go? | ParkRecord.com
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Where did the money go?

Frank Fisher, of the Record staff

What happened in this 2006-07 school year to nearly deplete the Park City School district coffers in this, the wealthiest school district in the state? Was this a one time event, or a sign of things to come? That’s what patrons of the Park City School district are asking.

Unless the reasons for the shrinking funds are fully understood, knowing how much to cut or whether cuts will be necessary for following years, is anyone’s guess.

Members of the school board detailed why expenses are outpacing revenue, and how to regain control, but they warn that control could have long-term consequences.

The 2007-08 Park City School District budget will likely see at least some of the recommended cuts many teachers and parents passionately opposed at the Feb. 27 budget meeting forum at Ecker Hills International Middle School.

Patty Murphy has been the district’s business administrator for the past year. "They knew this time would come, but it came sooner than anticipated, she said of having to use the district’s rainy-day fund-balance.

"We’ve been overspending for years. When we bring expenses in line with revenues, we ought to be on a steady course."

In response to some public input implying that there were budget discrepancies, Murphy said, "There are no discrepancies. The district is perfectly in line. It is under the regulation of state and federal laws."

She detailed three main reasons that this came to a head this year. First, she said enrollment dropped, which was unexpected. Murphy said that with rising home prices, families were able to sell their homes and move. The district therefore lost $637,000 in expected revenue, but had a full staff of teachers, which she said is currently about 19 students per teacher, compared with the state average of 23.

Second, Murphy said there was an error in recording health insurance costs, which were recorded in the wrong account, where it wasn’t recorded as an expense. thatresulted in the district budgeting for $700,000 less for the 2006-07 school year than was needed. The accounting error was discovered by an independent district audit in the fall of 2006.

Murphy said the third main reason that the district fell short was that their one ace-in-the-hole for generating more tax revenue, raising the voted leeway through a truth-in-taxation hearing, is a balancing act of sorts. "The truth-in-taxation board feels responsibility to students and employees, but also has a responsibility to taxpayers," she said. You don’t want to raise more tax dollars than you need."

Former school board president David Chaplin said, "The real surprise was that revenues were not as high as we hoped they would be, and the student population was going down rather than up. We have one of the finest health insurance programs in education. The rising premiums are significant we wanted to maintain the quality of service we provide and we wanted to maintain the quality of the coverage.

School board member Lisa Kirchenheiter said several factors contributed to the shortfall. She spoke of how the increase in health insurance costs caused the fund balance to drop. She also borrowed a quote from another board member saying, "We are building a house we can no longer afford to live in."

As to the future, Murphy says, "I think we will maintain our level of superiority. There will be some changes. We will be looking for more efficiencies so we can maintain our testing levels.

Chaplin added, "We have some of the finest educators in the country here. I am certain they will continue to do an exemplary job. I am not concerned about that part of it. The key to a really good school system is the people.


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