Thursday, July 17, 2003

Lakota projects red-ink budget, depletion by '06

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

WEST CHESTER TWP. - Lakota schools are projected to get about $400,000 more in state funding this year, even though enrollment is expected to grow by more than 300 students.

Treasurer Alan Hutchinson gave the Lakota Board of Education an update on the district's financial position this week, and explained how the state's budget bill would affect the district.

Beginning this year, the district will spend more money than it receives, using cash reserves to balance the $125 million general fund budget. But those reserves will be gone by the end of the 2005-06 school year, when the district is facing a $24.2 million deficit.

"With growth, the opening of two new schools and salary negotiations beginning, we do have significant pressure on the expenditure side of the balance sheet," Hutchinson said. "We are expecting $114 million in revenue, but plan to spend $125 million."

Calling the upcoming school year pivotal, Hutchinson said the district would have to either put something on the ballot or begin making budget reductions. Board members have previously said they would put a levy package on the March ballot that includes operating money, plus money to build a second freshman school and one or more elementary buildings.

Spending adjustments were made this year after the state reduced Lakota's funding by about $764,000, Hutchinson said.

"I hope this is the last cut the state has to make in education," said board member Susan McLaughlin.

On the positive side, Hutchinson said the district ended the 2002-03 school year slightly under budget, despite the mid-year state revisions and a low return on investments.

"We're a little bit better off than we should be at this point," Hutchinson said. "We said we'd be on the ballot in '04 and it looks like we will be."

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