Didn’t We See the 2013 School Budget Surplus Coming?

Our budget was approved more than a year ago. In a healthy environment the budget is a carefully managed process over the course of the year, where unspent money in one category offsets excess need in another. This happens all the time and rarely rises above an accounting exercise.

In the school department, once we budget for the year we hold our breath that we don’t have a colder than anticipated winter, something that would bump our utility bills. We hold our breath that we don’t need an emergency boiler replacement, or a fire that takes out the electrical equipment at Brown. We hold our breath that our employees don’t make greater health claims than budgeted and that we don’t have an increase in out-of-district Special Education placements. We hold our breath that state aid via Chapter 70 and Metco payments don’t get cut. Since our entire budget is firmly committed, even small additional needs can be incredibly disruptive.

In most years our budget categories show some excesses and some deficits, and we make adjustments so that the overall budget balances. In some years like the one just past so much serendipitously winds up in the black, and we show a surplus.

Even when a surplus emerges as a possibility over a year of monitoring, it is not clear until late in the year whether the excess funds will be necessary to offset deficits in other budget categories. So we don’t think of this money as surplus until approaching the very end of the fiscal year.

We are quite fortunate to have had a surplus this year. Just three short years ago the School Department had to close a $4 million budget gap.