An anonymous Curious Kenosha visitor asks: “If there was $4.3 million surplus in the school budget, why did us taxpayers have to vote and fund the new Bradford Stadium and Tremper (athletic facilities improvements)?”
While non-aficionados of fast-food chicken nuggets might be inclined to say, “Nuggets is nuggets,” the dollars that go into funding the Kenosha Unified School District budget — or really any other properly planned budget for that matter — can’t be thought of the same way.
That is, funding approved for one expenditure can’t typically be used to pay for a different expense altogether, particularly not without likely creating a chain reaction of financial complications that could lead to serious negative consequences for schools, students and, yes, us taxpayers.
Tarik Hamdan, KUSD Chief Financial Officer explains: “First of all, the referendum for the stadiums took place in a completely different fiscal cycle. It was in the 2015-16 budget when we started having expenses for that. The $4.3 million was from the 2016-17 budget cycle. So, right off the bat, that’s a different fiscal cycle.”
Further, the $4.3 million, which Anonymous cited and subsequently went toward increasing teachers’ and other employees’ pay, as well as paying for certain curriculum improvements, was from “unallocated funds, not a surplus,” Hamdan said Friday.
“That’s important to remember: where the $4.3 million came from,” he noted. “That was freed up by the School Board vote to change the district health plan, which saved us almost 5.8 percent on our health insurance premiums — $2.3 million. In addition to that when the board eliminated the long term care benefit for teachers, that also freed up $2 million. So, that’s essentially where the $4.3 million came from.”
The caveat: Eliminating the long term care benefit came with the board’s directive to apply the savings to employee compensation options.
Thus, the $4.3 million was “only unallocated because the board had not yet decided how to spend the money,” Hamdan said. “They needed a little more time to make the decision on how to allocate the $4.3 million available in the 2016-17 budget. That decision was later made to use the money toward curriculum improvements and for compensating staff.”
Admittedly, $4.3 million isn’t chicken change. But, again, when it comes to financial and strategic planning one dollar is not always interchangeable with another. That is, nuggets isn’t just nuggets.
Not only was Anonymous conflating expenditures approved under different fiscal year budgets, but he or she was not looking at the same overall financial picture as KUSD administration and the School Board in making revenue-and-expenditure decisions.
“It was not a priority to take $16.7 million (the total amount voters approved in the stadium/improvements) out of our operational funding for other expenses,” Hamdan said. “That’s what that would have meant. We would have had to take that full $16.7 million as a one-time hit, in that one year. Instead, we have the very democratic process of putting the question out to the taxpayers in a referendum where the people express their will.”
The resulting “Yes” by the majority of voters/taxpayers who voted provided direction to the board, who then approved the 20-year bonding to pay for the new Bradford Stadium, improvements to Ameche Field and other venues, and for curriculum upgrades.
“Rather than experiencing the cost right up front in your operating budgets, by placing (it) outside of the (state-imposed) revenue limits, that doesn’t take away from annual operational expenses,” Hamdan explained.
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