By Paul Thompson
Just four years removed from a reserve fund balance as low as 4%, the Hickman Mills C-1 district
has nearly quadrupled that figure, raising their reserves to a high of 21.99% at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
Diana Klosterman of Westbrook Audit delivered an optimistic review of the district’s finances during a Wednesday, December 11 audit review, conducted at the C-1 Board of Education’s monthly work session.
“This year, you’ve got your reserves up to 21.99%,” said Klosterman during the review. “To be able to tell you that you’ve got that awesome number up there is very exciting. This is a terrific place to be.”
The 2013 year-end reserve ratio marks an 8.55% improvement from 2012’s figures, and more than a 12% leap from 2011’s final reserve ratio of 9.94%. The C-1 district hit its financial low in 2008, when it maintained operating reserves of just 4.04%.
The increasing reserves are all the more impressive when considering the budgetary pressure that the district is under. Hickman Mills was able to increase that balance in spite of dwindling property taxes, student enrollment, and state funding. Klosterman submitted her glowing review despite those impediments, but noted that the district will have to maintain a close watch over expenditures in order to maintain its gains at the end of the current school year.
Board member Darrell Curls was thrilled at the progress, even admitting that he wasn’t sure he would see the day that the district pulled out of its financial hole.
“I’d like to, number one, commend (Wiltsey) and Dr. Carpenter and our staff. They’ve always told us that the ideal fund balance was 24-25%,” said Curls. “At that particular time, I was like, ‘no way.’”
“I think that having fund balance to that degree really says something about our district,” he added. “I never thought I would see us at 21%.”
The gains in reserves can be largely attributed to cost-cutting. Klosterman pointed out that the district’s transportation costs decreased by a total of $330,000 in 2012-2013, while the C-1’s food services program actually produced a modest profit. Although community services still cost Hickman Mills over $800,000 last year, the losses sustained by those programs actually decreased compared to previous years.
“Community services are activities that you provide outside of K-8,” explained Klosterman. “Your loss on community service is over $877,000. That is a big improvement from last year, where the loss was over $1,000,000.”
Klosterman did come across some minor issues while conducting the audit, though none were considered serious enough to classify as material weakness. The biggest problems revolved around the reconciliation of attendance figures. The audit revealed discrepancies in attendance for grades 10-12, summer school attendance, extended school year attendance, and the free and reduced lunch count. The misinformation was due primarily to inputting issues, which had all been corrected by the time the audit findings were presented.
“We worked your attendance over hard,” said Klosterman. “We saw some non-reconciliation between your software that was used to record your data and what was sent to DESE. All of that was fixed, which is why it’s considered an ‘immaterial difference.’”
The audit was ultimately approved unanimously by the board, and Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter stated his satisfaction with the job done by Klosterman and her associates at Westbrook Audit. “I find Westbrook to be very, very competent, and I find Westbrook to be very, very thorough,” said Carpenter.
Also at the December 11 meeting, Executive Director of Human Resources Delilah Norris presented a demographics report for the district’s newly hired certified staff. Out of 106 new hires, Norris’ data showed that 63.5% were white females, 16.9% were black females, and 15% were white males. In addition, 2.8% were black males and 1.8% were Asian females. 55.7% of new hires came equipped with a Bachelor’s degree, while 40.5% possess a Master’s degree. 3.8% hold a PhD or Educational Specialists degree.
The demographic report also showed the work experience of the district’s new hires. The figures show that 59.3% of the district’s new certified staff have less than five years of prior experience. 19.8% have between five and nine years of experience, 11.5% have between 10 and 20 years of experience, and 9.4% possess 21 or more years of experience.
The Hickman Mills C-1 Board of Education will next meet on Thursday, December 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the district’s Administrative Center.