Chester District to Keep 2.5 Percent of School Surplus

CHESTER – The Chester school board has officially kept $194,883 of last year’s surplus to use in the event of unforeseen costs in the coming year. Concurrently with that decision, the board has agreed to spend down one of its capital reserve funds this year, likely one in years to come, and to keep one to cover future building expenses.
The district ended the year with $201,459.53 of surplus in a budget totaling $11 million.

The board has three capital reserve funds and members have been pondering what to do with those sums, as the state legislature created a law by which school districts can withhold 2.5 percent of their surplus each year – $194,883 is the full 2.5 percent of last year’s operating budget.
The board and budget committee were not completely comfortable with keeping both the new 2.5 percent emergency fund as well as previously created emergency funds, citing concerns about redundancy.
At the board’s Oct. 9 meeting, it again pondered the decision, with input from budget committee members Rhonda Lamphere and Steven D’Angelo.
Three capital reserve funds fell under scrutiny because of the new 2.5 percent contingency. These are a buildings maintenance/repair fund, a fund created to cover potential unforeseen overages in high school tuition (Chester tuitions its high school students to the semi-private Pinkerton Academy in Derry), and a fund created to cover unforeseen special education costs.
The latter fund caused the most discussion last week.
The district’s lawyer recently suggested that the board keep the special education fund, noting, according to school board chair Royal Richardson, that the money had already been appropriated for that purpose and could be easily maneuvered where needed. Special education is a budget that could easily run into trouble, as an individual student can cost the district tens of thousands of dollars or more, and it isn’t clear during budget season who might move into town in the coming year.
This fund currently holds $75,000.
It was agreed that the high school tuition fund would be spent down as soon as possible. Interim superintendent Jim Gaylord explained that with several unbudgeted-for high school students entering the district this year, the $30,000 in that fund would be used in the current budget year if things remain status quo.
The board agreed that it was wise to keep the building repair fund because an expensive roof repair was coming in future years.
According to Lamphere, the majority of the budget committee was in agreement with the school board that the buildings fund should remain and the tuition fund should be spent down. But Lamphere said the committee also thinks the special education fund should be spent down.
D’Angelo said that while the majority of the budget committee did seek to spend down the special education fund, the timeline was open.
Special education director Jana Ruiz said budgeting for her department was not an exact science, as some special education students required expensive services and it wasn’t always known at budget time who would move into or out of the district in the coming months. Ruiz suggested the board keep the fund as is, and if it was not spent down in a couple of years, it could revisit the decision.
Ruiz noted that already this year special education had $24,000 in unanticipated costs, but that upward pressure had been offset by other lines, including $10,000 of savings in the psychological services budget line.
Gaylord suggested following the attorney’s advice and keeping the fund for the time being.
No decision was made on the special education fund, but the consensus at the end of the discussion was that it would remain as is.

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