We are in the process of amending our budget for the 2023-24 school year for presentation to our board for action on Monday, March 12, 2024.  This got me thinking that we have come a long way as the fiscal stewards of Maple Valley Schools in the five years I have been here.

Prior to my arrival in January of 2019, the board made some strong decisions to gain strict oversight on the budget which had been put into a deficit of $75,000. With some immediate cost savings, austerity measures and fiscal oversight, we were out of deficit in 2019. We continued that work as we left state supervision of our finances when we surpassed a 5% fund balance by our 2020 budget. A fund balance is the unappropriated money at the beginning of a school year. You can think of it as our district savings account to get us through difficult or unanticipated times. The Michigan School Business Officials (MSBO) recommends that districts maintain a fund balance of 15 to 20 percent. Once money is taken from the fund balance, it is very difficult to replenish it as school districts have many costs and inflation impacts us, just as it does a family’s budget. We are dependent upon the state aid fund to get revenues.

As part of our strategic plan from 2020-2025, our community and board agreed that we needed to work to steadily increase our fund balance for emergencies and unanticipated costs. Our school board in conjunction with our Finance Director Darryl Sydloski and myself worked to be good stewards to our funds. In 2021, we refinanced the bond that the community had passed and saved our taxpayers $691,000 dollars.  

When the COVID impacts began and the federal government provided additional funds for school districts, we were mindful that this was one-time money, not a continuous stream of funds. We wisely aligned our spending plans to account for that, and we didn’t over commit that money for ongoing costs to the district. Some districts mismanaged that money and are now experiencing severe fiscal stress. 

Staff costs are consistently the largest portion of a district budget and when we negotiated our 3-year contract from July of 2023-June of 2026, we knew ESSER funds would expire and the one time monies, we saw in the State School Aid budget for 2023-24 might not continue. We did receive some important categorical increases and we hope those continue in the areas of transportation and early literacy. Special Education was also funded to a larger extent than we have ever seen in this past year, which was welcome, but still not sufficient to pay for federally mandated programs that continue to be underfunded. Out of necessity, those important needs draw from the general education budget.  Our efforts to support a county wide millage for Special Education passed this past November which will yield over $200,000 dollars annually for the next ten years. While Special Education continues to be underfunded, it is vastly better than it was, which benefits ALL of our students.  

I am extremely proud of the conservative work that our board, our finance director and I have done to grow our current fund balance close to 8%. The final numbers are not in yet, but be assured we continue to seek every opportunity to maintain a healthy, growing fund balance in Maple Valley Schools. We will continue to seek ways to trim our budget in ways that will not impact our classrooms such as energy efficiencies, while also seeking grants and other revenues that help us to ever so slowly increase our fund balance. The fiscal security of our district is in good hands.