The Saline Area Schools financial books for the year 2011-12 received top marks in the annual audit performed by Plante Moran.
Plante Moran representatives Jeff Dolowy and Andrea Link appeared at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting to go over the audit with school officials.
Dolowy told the board that Plante Moran gave Saline Area Schools an “unqualified opinion,” which he said is the highest level of assurance the firm can give about the school district’s financial statement.
The audit was done on the toughest financial year the school district has faced in recent memory, as general fund spending outpaced revenues by $1,556,000. That deficit increased from $149,000 in 2010-11 and marked the third straight year the district was in the red.
The district saw revenue drop from $51,169,000 to $50,315,000 from 2011 to 2012. The district took in about $600,000 less in local tax revenue and about $700,000 less in federal funds. At the same time, spending increased from $51,318,000 to $51,882,000. Salaries and benefit costs increased from $44,373,000 to $45,203,000.
The audit showed Saline spent about 64 percent of its general fund budget on operating expenditures, higher than four of the five peers included in a Plante Moran comparison. Dexter, for example, spent 62 percent of its general fund budget on instruction.
Plante Moran also presented information showing that Saline’s fund balance – or rainy day fund – has been traditionally much lower than state averages. Dolowy also pointed out that many districts readjusted to new financial realities in 2010, which helped the state wide average fund balance increase from 10.44 to 11.12 percent in 2011. By 2012, Saline’s fund balance was at 2.3 percent of its general fund budget.
Later on the in meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Finance Janice Warner presented a revised 2012-13 budget which showed Saline turning the deficit into a surplus and increasing the fund balance to 3.6 percent of the general fund budget.
The speck on the audit is a reference to an internal control item, Dolowy said.
“A couple of adjustments were made during the course of the audit. I don’t look at this as a significant internal control issue,” Dolowy said. “Janice Warner and her staff were stretched and in transition.”
Dolowy said most districts receive letters like this in an audit.
Last year, the district transitioned from former finance director Tom Wall to Janice Warner. Several staff members were also training for new roles during the transition.
Superintendent Scot Graden said Warner has requested allocation of more help for the finance department. He noted that most districts of Saline’s size have three more full-time employees than Saline has. But, Graden said, adding staff isn’t realistic right now.
Trustee Dave Zimmer asked if the Washtenaw Intermediate School District can provide some financial services in the near future. Graden said the WISD has struggled to maintain its existing services, noting that Chelsea schools have taken their payroll service back from WISD. Graden said that until the WISD and local school districts begin using similar tools, there aren’t savings to be gained by consolidating.
Saline’s finance department is scheduled to begin using some new financial software by December of 2013, which may allow for more shared services and efficiencies.