By JEROD CLAPP
NEW ALBANY — Following five years of hard financial times and difficult cuts, the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. board of trustees on Monday took a moment to celebrate a budget back in the black.
Fred McWhorter, chief business officer, said instead of dipping into cash reserves to balance its budget by the end of the year, the district has a positive balance of more than $381,000.
“It’s taken a lot of hard decisions, a lot of cooperation from everybody — administration all throughout the corporation, [the] teachers association, all the different employee groups. Everybody came together and it got accomplished.”
McWhorter said a lot of decisions by the board and the administration led to a positive balance, including paying off pension bonds and lowering debt obligations and refinancing middle school bonds, giving the district $4.2 million in interest savings.
But he also said some of the cuts in the last five years also included elimination of retiree insurance. Teacher layoffs and school closures were also part of cost reduction plans.
Those cuts, however, were legislative directives. State and federal appropriations for 2013 were more than $4 million less than they were in 2008.
Joy Lohmeyer, president of the district’s teachers’ association, said while some of the cuts hurt teachers through layoffs, freezing wages and other means, it took cooperation from her organization to help the district right its finances.
“The understanding with that is when they move forward and as monies are available, we’d put that back for salaries and that sort of thing,” Lohmeyer said after the meeting. “We’d also look at reinstituting teaching positions that have been cut. As an association, we’re very supportive of bringing back teachers for music art and P.E. Our bargaining team has worked hard with the administrative team, there’s been a lot of research back and forth and our salaries are low compared to corps of our size. But we’re hopefully moving toward that now that the corporation is back in the black.”
Without relying on rainy day funds to balance the books, McWhorter said that fund ended with $5.1 million in 2013, more than 10 times its balance in 2008. But he said by paying off its 2008 unfunded liability of more than $34 million, it really helped some of their financial woes.
“That’s the equivalent of getting rid of the Social Security deficit for our district,” McWhorter said. “That’s gargantuan.”
Mark Boone, board member, said 2013’s budgetary end shows the district is “doing more with less.”
“You had a plan and you stuck to it, which meant it was a good plan,” Boone said. “Everybody came to the table, all of our employees, and bargained in good faith. We took ownership and accountability, but when you look at how we got there faster than we thought.”
He said as finances have gotten better, pools have reopened in schools and supervised instruction in art, music and P.E. in the elementary schools has come back. He also said through partnerships with outside organizations, more elementary sports are making their way back, too.
He said the cooperation of teachers and other district employees was appreciated, too.
“I applaud teachers and people in the buildings for not stringing these guys up four years ago when they started talking about cuts,” Boone said. “They gave them time to see if this works. It’s really easy to be critical when things get painful, but this is pretty exciting. We should celebrate this.”Roger Whaley, board member, suggested the board pass a resolution recognizing the administration, board, teachers association and all employee groups for their resolve in taking care of the financial issues. The move passed unanimously.
But McWhorter said just because there’s money leftover doesn’t mean the district can stop exercising care.
“It’s important that we keep our financial situation in check,” McWhorter said. “There’s already been a mad dash to say ‘how can we spend surplus?’ It’s actually harder when you have money than when you don’t have money because everybody has a different opinion on how you can spend it.”