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County officials in Lancaster question unspent school allocation

Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 10:15 am

School spending came under fire in Lancaster County last Thursday after an analysis showed that over $600,000 in listed expenditures will remain unspent at the close of fiscal year (FY) 2013.

But a school official refuted that 75 percent of the money in question was not funded locally and will still be available to Lancaster County Public Schools (LCPS) through September.

On May 30, School Finance Director Sue Salg presented a memorandum to the board of supervisors that detailed LCPS’s current unspent expenditures, which totaled $952,000.

Salg’s presentation was a response to an analysis of the school division conducted by former Assistant County Administrator Jack Larson, from which the board inferred that the school system has approximately $600,000 that it could have spent during the 2012-2013 school year, but didn’t.

“We’re talking about a big chunk of money,” Dist. 1 Supervisor and Chairman Butch Jenkins told Salg.

But Salg replied that $460,000 of the unspent expenditures in the school budget are based on grant awards, which are not funded by county taxpayers.

In a follow-up interview, Salg said that if the awards were not spent on instruction before June 30, then the division would not receive the corresponding federal reimbursement.

As to why the award money will not be spent at the end of June 30, Salg pointed to a federal revenue shortage in the school budget of $466,000.

“Technically, we could spend the money, but if we have revenue shortfalls, it would require the county to give us more than they had originally appropriated,” said Salg. “Not one of the superintendents I have ever worked for wanted to do that.”

Salg added that while the county’s fiscal year ends June 30, grants have a year-end of Sept. 30. Therefore, the awards will carry over to FY 2014.

Salg also noted that at the end of FY 2012, their grant awards accounted for what looked like $515,000 in unused expenditures.

“We quite often have the same type of conversation about unspent funds,” Salg told the board. “And I think I probably have not done as good a job as I should have in explaining more of the details.”

Larson, however, expressed his concern that the federal funds continually kept “carrying over and over” past the end of each school year.

“Somehow, they never seem to get spent out,” said Larson.

“They do,” Salg replied. “But it [looks that way] because we’re working off of two award years.”

She added that, currently, the school system is working with the FY 2011 and 2012 grant awards due to the year-end overlap between June and September.

“Next year, it’s 2012 and 2013 awards, and it just goes on and on until the federal funding slices. But who knows what’s going to happen with that,” said Salg.

In addition to the $460,000 in grant funds that will remain unspent, Salg estimated the schools will return $150,000 to the county, which she noted was “fairly consistent” with the $148,000 that LCPS gave back in FY 2012.

Of the remaining funds in the operating budget, $342,000 will be spent before June 30 on the division’s contribution to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), orders for instructional and technological materials and school maintenance.

The board heard Salg’s presentation prior to what the agenda listed as their consideration of the school budget for FY 2014.

However, discussion of the budget was suspended to at least the county’s next budget work session, which was held Tuesday, June 4.

“Lets’ just chew on the information we’ve got so far,” said Jenkins.

As of press time, any discussion or considerations of the school budget remain undetermined.