As the school district enters deficit spending, board members stand divided regarding reserve fund calculations.
The Sarasota County School Board will likely vote in the coming weeks on a proposed change to its formula for calculating reserve funds in its budget. Having first discussed the potential change at their March workshop, school board members debated heading in one of two directions:
Adopting a statewide formula for calculating School District reserve funds and its requirement for a 3% minimum, based on total revenue, or
Retaining its own formula for calculating reserve funds and its connected 7.5% of revenue minimum, both of which were established in 2001.
Regardless of which option the board ultimately chooses, members stressed that the actual dollar amount in the reserve fund wouldn’t change because of the different ways the two calculations are made. It would only affect how “healthy” the fund outwardly appears, based on whichever minimum calculation they approve.
School Board members also learned the district's reserve fund will likely fall below its 7.5% benchmark for the first time.
Board member Eric Robinson likened the reserve fund options to something with which most car owners are familiar.
“What we’re doing is, instead of stopping to get gas, we’re just letting the indicator light go off when we have less gas in our car,” he said. “I don’t think that really solves the problem (of deficit spending).”
Robinson and Bridget Ziegler opposed moving ahead with the vote on using the statewide formula and its 3% benchmark.
Member Shirley Brown, who was in favor of the statewide calculation, pointed out that Sarasota County Schools would still aim to meet the 7.5% minimum. The only thing that would change, she said, was that the official policy would align with other school districts throughout the state.
By not following suit, she also said she was also worried the school board would appear to not be following state law.
“At this time it’s prudent for us to follow the way that the state says we should do it,” she said. “We should advertise it and next month come back and vote on it.”
Both Ziegler and Robinson also questioned why the change in the calculation wasn’t proposed when the school board combed through and revised districtwide policies over the last year.
Board Chair Jane Goodwin, who stood in favor of the 3% minimum calculation, closed the discussion by affirming the board would need to continue “sharpening their pencils” over the budget, regardless of what the board chooses to do with the calculations.
“We’ve tried to be very vigilant and very good at keeping a resourceful and healthy fund balance,” she said. “It’s going to be a tough year.”