Has Union County’s school system been underspending its budget?
Union County Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Yates raised that issue at a recent board of commissioners meeting. During a slide presentation that explained why the county planned to give the school system $12.5 million less than it requested, Yates showed a chart that indicated the school system has underspent its budget in recent years – by millions of dollars per year.
However, Union County Public School’s annual audited financial reports give a different perspective.
And so does UCPS Chief Financial Officer Daniel Karpinski, who said the chart was a distortion because it doesn’t give a complete picture of the school system’s revenues and expenses.
“You have to take all these numbers in context,” Karpinski said.
He put the numbers in context on June 29, the morning before the commissioners approved their budget, which gave $91.9 million to the schools instead of the requested $104.4 million.
Karpinski said he wants taxpayers to understand that Union County Public Schools uses tax dollars wisely.
He pointed to the chart’s information for fiscal year 2013. The chart showed a budget of $88.2 million that year, with expenditures of $86.5 million – a difference of $1.7 million.
Karpinski said the chart didn’t show that $1.65 million of the budget that year was “returned back to the county” because the $1.65 million designated for teacher assistants ended up being funded by the state, instead of the county.
So, the $1.7 million difference would have been nearly erased, he said.
“It’s taking budget versus actual,” he said of the figures on the chart. “Why wouldn’t you do actual revenues versus actual expenditures?”
For fiscal year 2015, the chart estimated that the school system would have nearly $8 million of its budget left unspent by the end of the fiscal year. Karpinski said he’s been running numbers every day and that estimate is much too large. There could be $3 million left over, he said.
He disputed other figures on the chart too, including a box claiming UCPS underspent its 2014 budget by 8 percent.
Karpinski also said any money remaining at the end of the fiscal year goes into the budget for the next year. And sometimes unspent money is saved for multi-year projects such as the technology program called the 1:1 initiative, which provides laptops for students to use. That technology initiative reduced the school system’s general fund balance by $3.1 million during the 2014 fiscal year.
The chart Yates presented said the difference between budgeted and actual amounts for 2014 was $6.9 million. But the 2014 annual report said UCPS’s remaining fund balance after that technology expenditure was $741,838.
The annual reports provide perspective to the school system’s budget requests and needs. For example, in 2014 it had $353.4 million in expenses. Nearly $3.5 million of those expenses were categorized as “payments to other governments.”
Karpinski said this is the category UCPS uses that includes payments to cover Union County residents who attend charter schools – even when those charter schools are in other counties.
Other expenses included $255 million for instructional services, $69.4 million for supporting services and $17.6 million for school food services.
Comprehensive annual financial reports for UCPS are available online for the last seven years. The 2015 report won’t be posted until late fall or early winter because the final audit is not scheduled until October, Karpinski said.
Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jane? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information
The comprehensive annual reports for the last seven years are available online at http://finance.ucps.k12.nc.us/php/financial_statements.php .