Building cash reserves and paying down debt were re-affirmed as the Chadron Public School’s primary financial goals during a board workshop Monday.
The two-hour workshop covered several issues, including conduct at public meetings, public comment time at those meetings and budget goals.
The district changed course on public comments during its meetings, agreeing to allow comments on items not on the agenda at every meeting. Traditionally, that has been allowed only once per quarter, though the public could comment on specific agenda items at each meeting.
While much of the budget discussion centered on whether the school district should pay for teachers’ individual memberships in professional societies or organizations, the board touched on everything from district loans, to meal per diems while school officials are traveling and infrastructure needs.
Board member Jim O’Rourke said he would like to see the district have a policy encouraging teachers to join professional organizations in their field, but insisted it should be at their own expense. It was unclear Monday how many teachers currently belong to such organizations and how many of those memberships the district funds.
Paying such membership dues can sometimes be a useful tool to attract candidates to Chadron, said Middle School Principal Nick Dressel.
“The infrastructure needs are serious,” said board member Boone Huffman, who noted he doesn’t want to cut things like meal per diems. Still, the board has to look at the bigger picture and find ways to address problems with roofs, playgrounds, parking lots and more.
“Once again, it’s a funding issue, not a spending issue,” said Superintendent Dr. Caroline Winchester in explaining the budgeting process. The district has increased its spending by an average of only 1.2 percent per year over the last decade, while revenues have stayed flat.
“If you have specific things you don’t want to pay for, tell us,” she said, adding that the district staff has worked to curb unnecessary expenses.
Board President Tom Menke suggested the board’s role is to give overarching guidance to the administration – for example, a certain dollar amount for the budget – and let staff determine how best to live within that budget.
“Allow them to do their job,” he said.
“We’ve got to let go of micromanaging the decisions,” Sandy Roes agreed.
In the end, the board reached a consensus to direct staff to achieve a cash reserve of $2 million within the next two years while paying down debt. The cash reserve is currently at $1.5 million. The desired increase will cover approximately two months of expenses in a catastrophic situation; auditors generally recommend entities retain a four to six month cash reserve.
“I want a fiscally sound system,” Huffman said, one that allows the district to pay off loans, resolve its infrastructure needs and increase its cash reserves.