RIPLEY - An independent auditing firm gave the Ripley Central School District good marks for its financial management during the 2011-12 fiscal year, board members learned last month.
Wayne Rischell of Buffamante Whipple Buttafaro, P.C., presented a review of the external audit the company has just completed for the school year ending June 30. The firm discovered "no weaknesses in internal control (how the school conducts business)" and "no instances where the administration was out of compliance with its reporting," he said.
"You've done a good job mirroring expenses with your revenue," Rischell said. "The books are in very good shape right now."
Rischell noted Ripley has $13 million worth of assets right now, down from $13.8 the previous year. These are largely capital assets, such as buildings and grounds, and the decline is due largely to depreciation, he said.
The district's liabilities, which mostly involve bonds and loans, have also decreased from $8.7 million to $8.1 million. This reduction came about because the district was able to pay more than $600,000 of the principal of its loans. Another cause of the fluctuation in liability was changes in accounting rules regarding how post-retirement benefits can be projected, he said.
Rischell also commended the district for saving a projected $865,000 over the next 20 years by refinancing several of its bonds.
Rischell told the board overall revenue declined during the year from $9.3 million to $7.4 million. This was due to decreasing population within the district and reductions in state aid. Revenue from BOCES II dropped from $1.5 to $1.1 million. Overall expenses dropped from $8.3 to $7.0 million, he said.
Looking over the past five years, Rischell told the board the district's surpluses have offset its deficits.
"Keep doing what you're doing," he said. "You, as a district, have been very progressive as a small school trying to meet the challenges of these times."
Board president Robert Bentley asked Rischell to explain the school's fund balance and why members of the public may misinterpret it.
"I think there is a huge misconception that the district has more funds it can use," Bentley said.
Rischell responded the fund balance was like a savings account holding some funds that are available for use and some funds earmarked for particular uses which cannot be used elsewhere.
Ripley's general fund stands at about $3 million, down from $3.3 million the year before, he said. Of this, about $2 million in cash is left over at the end of the year. This is the fund balance.
Most of that amount is earmarked for various reserve funds, however, Rischell said. When a person collects unemployment, for instance, the state bills the district dollar for dollar so the school has "appropriately and responsibly" set aside $600,000 as unemployment reserve, he said.
Other reserve accounts in the fund balance include: retirement reserve, $300,000; worker's compensation, $200,000; capital needs for projected purchases, $170,000; employee benefit, $150,000; and tax certiary when taxpayers challenge their property assessments, $150,000.
This leaves approximately $540,000 to balance the budget and $280,000 left available for "what the board decides needs doing," Rischell said.
Rischell also noted the district's food service budget contains a deficit, prompting the board to move $5,000 from the general fund to support it. Decreasing enrollment played a part in the deficit, but increased costs based on new state nutritional guidelines have also driven up costs, he said.
"What you're experiencing in food service is what everyone is experiencing," Rischell said.
The new guidelines call for more fresh vegetables and fruit as well as more healthy options. This has driven up costs, but driven down demand.
"What you're dealing with is maybe a little more unique than other districts, but it's basically the same problem," Rischell said.
In other business, the board welcomed Thomas Donovan as the new English teacher for grades seven through 12. Donovan replaces Michelle Frick who took a job at Chautauqua Lake Central School.
Also, Superintendent Karen Krause reported data was still being collected regarding the possibility of tuitioning students to Chautauqua Lake.
Chautauqua Lake will be hosting a program and tour of its facilities for Ripley parents and students from 6 to 8 p.m., on Nov. 20. Ripley will be providing transportation leaving the school at 5:30 p.m. Anyone interested in taking part are asked to call the school for reservations.
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