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Clay school district to warn state of low fund balance

BY DAN HILDEBRAN

Monitor Editor

 

The Clay County School District will have to notify Florida’s commissioner of education that its fund balance has dipped below a benchmark set by Florida law.

Dr. George Copeland, assistant superintendent for business affairs, said the state’s primary measure of a school district’s financial strength, the fund balance as a percentage of revenue has fallen from 9.8 percent on July 1, 2007 to 2.45 percent on July 1, 2013.

Under Florida law, if the fund balance falls below 3 percent of revenues, the superintendent must notify the state commissioner of education of the low balance.  If the percentage falls below 2 percent, the commissioner could declare a financial emergency and appoint an independent board to oversee district finances.

Copeland blamed the shrinking fund balance on high salaries.  He said a school district should spend around 82 percent of its budget on salaries and benefits. However, the Clay system spent between 87 and 89 percent of its expenses on salaries and benefits from 2007-2008 through 2012-2013.

Copeland also said that an unexpected enrollment decline of 627 students cost the district nearly $3 million in revenues in 2012-2013.

He added that falling property values also hurt the district.  Assessed values in Clay County averaged $10.8 billion from 2008 to 2010 but averaged $9.3 billion from 2011-2013.

Copeland presented a 2013-2014 budget to the board with $240.7 million in revenues and $241.7 million in expenses, further reducing the district’s fund balance by $1 million.  He estimated  that the system’s June 30, 2014 fund balance as a percentage of revenues would be 2.27 percent.  He also said that to get the fund balance above three percent of revenues administrators would have to find $1.7 million in savings.

Clay County Superintendent of Schools Charlie Van Zant said the district’s fund balance decreased $28 million from 2008 through November 2012, the point in which he took office last year.

Van Zant said the decrease occurred in spite of a discretionary quarter-mill tax the school board imposed during that same time period that brought in $18 million to the district.

He said the district’s fund balance, which is the amount of assets that exceeds liabilities, has gone from $32 million in 2008 to $4 million.

Van Zant said the district’s shrinking equity also came during a time when the federal government contributed $30.5 million in stimulus funds to the Clay system.

Van Zant added that the legislature this year increased the district’s expenses by $3.5 million when it raised the system’s mandatory contribution to the Florida State Retirement System by 1.7 percent of salaries.

He also said that because the 2013 legislature also, for the first time, will require school districts to pay for dual enrolled students, the Clay district will incur an additional $500,000 in costs.

Therefore between declining enrollment and the two additional costs imposed by lawmakers, the district will incur $7 million in additional expenses in the coming fiscal year.

He added however that the $7 million increased costs are offset with $2 million in non-restricted new revenues from the state.

 

School district thanks hospital for help with concussions

Michael Wingate, the director of secondary education for the Clay County School District, thanked Orange Park Medical Center for its contribution of concussion diagnostics equipment.

Wingate said two physicians from the hospital met with athletic directors from the district at Middleburg High School to train them with ImPACT- immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing

The hospital purchased the testing units for the district.  Wingate said school administrators started using the program in football, the sport most prone to concussions. He added that soccer athletes were recently added to the program.

Wingate said that coaches administer a baseline test to athletes using the computer based diagnostic tool  and retest them if they show any signs of concussions.

Wingate said that since coaches are not physicians, they do not prescribe treatments based on the tests, however, they can hold the athlete out of any future contact until the athlete has been medically cleared.

Tom Pentz, OPMC’s CEO said Dr. Richard J. Bultman brought ImPACT to the attention of OPMC leaders.  Pentz added that  Bultman has been giving free physicals to Clay County athletes for years.

Pentz also thanked the board for allowing the hospital to participate in Orange Park High School’s health occupation program.

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