- "School Budgeting" originally appeared in the October 2023 finance issue of COMO Magazine
A Glimpse into Columbia Public Schools’ Budget Development Process.
The Board of Education and Columbia Public Schools are committed to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
The process used to develop the school district’s budget requires a great deal of analysis. The decisions made in the short term need to be sustainable in the long term.
Columbia Public Schools works collaboratively with schools, district programs, and district administration to develop strategies and align resources in a manner that reflects our vision, mission, and values. We believe that budget development is the foundation of meeting our district’s vision and mission to be the best district in our state.
Additionally, committees established by the Board of Education for long-range financial and facility planning help guide the development of the budget and the district’s long-range facility and financial plans.
The school district’s budget development process begins in early winter each year with revenue projections derived from student enrollment, preliminary assessed valuations, and other factors.
Beginning in December and continuing through February, the finance committee and the board review and establish budget parameters and timelines. Also, during the winter months, the administration compiles needs based on budget requests received from building and department leaders for personnel, services and supplies, and capital items. During this same period, the finance committee and the board gather information on employee benefit recommendations and requests.
Throughout the spring months, the board has monthly budget discussions, including public work sessions, to discuss and prioritize budget needs. An annual budget hearing for the public is also held each year.
As required by statute, by June 30 a final budget for the coming year is adopted.
Managing expenditures requires checks and balances. Throughout the year, departmental and building budgets are managed using a purchase order system that is budget-restricted. Purchase orders are part of a purchase approval process and prevent an overcommitment of funds.
Revenue budgets are reviewed and updated on a regular basis and discussed with the board as a part of the district’s five-year projection model. Budget amendments may be made as additional information becomes available, particularly relating to federal program funds, assessed valuation, and student count data. Any additions to or redirections from the approved budget that require additional staffing or could result in spending beyond what has been authorized by the board requires approval by the board. Additionally, the board has final approval of the original budget and budget adjustments made throughout the year. In a spirit of transparency and clarity, the board approves full-time equivalent (FTE) budgets, salary schedules, rates of pay, and work calendars as a part of the budget process. These items are included in the final board-approved budget document. Changes during the year to these schedules, rates of pay, or FTE needs are brought to the board for consideration.
Columbia Public Schools continues to rely upon and receive the support of local taxpayers to fund the operating budget. Approximately 60 percent of the district’s operating budget comes from local tax dollars. The remaining funds come from state, federal, and other revenue sources such as grants. In 2016, voters approved a tax levy increase to address continued growth and the need to keep salaries competitive to recruit and retain high-quality employees. Each year, as required by law, the district sets the annual tax rate within the threshold approved by voters and based on current assessed valuation as well as other required financial considerations.
The district is in stable financial condition due to support from the community and continued prudent financial management. This in turn has allowed the district to maintain a very strong Aa1 bond rating. Bonds are used by government entities for new construction projects. By law, bond funds cannot be used for salaries, materials, or supplies. The district’s strong financial position has resulted in positive bond sales with considerable premiums and low interest rates.
The district’s efforts to remain transparent and provide understandable financial reporting for the public have resulted in national and international recognition. For more than 35 years, the district’s Annual Comprehensive Financial Report has earned both the Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting and the Association of School Business Officials Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting.
These awards are granted only to governmental entities that publish an annual comprehensive financial report, which is easily readable, efficiently organized, and conforms to program standards. Such reports must satisfy both generally accepted accounting principles and applicable legal requirements.
For the past five years, the district’s budget has been recognized by the Association of School Business Officials for excellence in budget presentation with the Meritorious Budget Award (MBA). Participants submit their budget documents to a panel of school financial professionals who review the materials for compliance with the MBA criteria checklist and other requirements and provide expert feedback that districts can use to improve their budget documents. By participating in the program, the district demonstrates its commitment to upholding nationally recognized budget presentation standards which includes the development of a high-quality, easy-to-understand budget to share the district’s goals and objectives internally and with the community.
The district’s 2023-24 budget is focused on putting scholars first so they graduate college-, career-, and life-ready. The decisions we’ve made support our mission to provide every child with an excellent education. We appreciate the continued support of our taxpayers.
Strong public schools mean a strong and thriving community. The district is committed to providing financial transparency and will continue to prudently allocate the funds entrusted to us.
Dr. Brian Yearwood is the Superintendent of Columbia Public Schools