Arlington schools budget looks healthy, for now

By 2020, funds will decline significantly without a replacement levy and relief from the Legislature.

By Douglas Buell

Arlington Times

ARLINGTON – The Arlington School Board adopted a $75.4 million budget for 2019 that includes across-the-board pay increases, additional staff, as well as more money for safety improvements, athletics and the arts.

The total proposed operating budget is $75.4 million against projected revenues of $80.8 million. That includes a beginning fund balance of $8.6 million that could climb to $13.1 million in the next budget cycle, said Gina Zeutenhorst, executive director of financial services.

Board policy requires a minimum fund balance equal to one month’s average operating costs, so the numbers are a good sign of healthy operating capital, she said.

But, Zeutenhorst forewarned, “It’s not going to be high in future years,” based on new four-year budget projections the district is required to estimate as part of the state’s overhaul of the education system.

By 2020, balances for programs, services and operations will decline significantly without a replacement levy and relief from the Legislature, resulting in potential cuts.

Zeutenhorst explained that the current higher fund balance is due to several developments.

Enrollment gained 95 more students than budgeted, which brought in additional state revenue and required adding more teachers. Also, local tax revenues collected were higher than expected due to a good economy, people were paying delinquent taxes higher than projected, interest earnings were up, and state timber fund dollars added $2.2 million more than anticipated at the end of the school year.

Among general fund expenditures, the budget includes a 3.1 percent cost-of-living raise for all teachers and staff.

The spending plan anticipates adding 30 new positions to the current 526 employed in the district, including basic education and special education teachers, counselors, aides and support staff, with more emphasis on kindergarten through third grade where the district is seeing the most enrollment growth.

The budget will also provide funding for campus security equipment, band uniforms, music instrument repair and replacement, and more dollars for the arts, activities and athletics.

Among other major funds, the 2018-19 spending plan will allocate $6 million to the debt service fund to make principal and interest payments on an existing bond that is a few years from payoff.

This story originally appeared in The Arlington Times, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.

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