By David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun
LACONIA — For next school year, Laconia schools will operate on a budget that starts from scratch, with every spending item explained and justified, according to a new format for budgeting as explained by the budget office.
"You'll see a different budget this year, it will have more information in it regarding specific accounts," said Business Administrator Christine Blouin, speaking to two members of the district's budget and personnel committee.
Committee Chairman Michael Persson and fellow board member Mal Murray received the briefing Thursday as part of a launch of the 2017-2018 budget preparation season.
This year's $32.2 million budget for Laconia schools dropped from $32.7 million in 2015-2016. Adequate Education Aid funding dropped from $10.9 million in fiscal year 2015-2016 to $10.5 million in fiscal year 2016-2017, according to the current school budget (2016-2017). The current year's aid includes $4.463 million in state property tax and $6.052 million in state adequacy aid.
Officials expect further declines in state adequacy aid, which is based largely on enrollment.
Blouin didn't delve into any specific spending estimates for next year — it's too early for that. Rather, she explained a new method of budget preparation that has been in the works since last October.
Descriptions will accompany accounts, and the budget will emerge from a "zero-based" approach.
"I would say by the end of January we should have a good handle on what we're going to be presenting as the first, 'This is what we need in a budget,'" Blouin said.
Persson explained that past years' spending will no longer predicate how the budget is developed.
"Everything that goes into the budget has to be justified based upon the strategic plan, building needs, and they have to be justified, each of the lines as we're going," Persson said. "It's no longer, 'Last year we had $50,000 in this account, and that's probably about right, let's keep that there.' Now it's going to be, if there's $50,000 in that account, this is what it's for."
"Super Saturday," a meeting of district personnel and the public to hash out budget priorities, likely will take place in the second week of March, the committee agreed.
For Super Saturday, Persson recommended a look five years ahead. He said a two-year effort to develop a strategic plan is almost finished, which should inform the school board as it makes priorities in next year's budget.
"From year to year, they will be building the budget from zero-based (budgeting) again, so looking at it downstream, this year is going to take quite a bit of time, there will be quite a bit of effort," he said.
Murray said too many details could confuse the public so he praised a budget that contains justifications for spending but not too many numbers that delve into the financial weeds.
Blouin said the new format will strike a balance.
With teacher salaries, for example, "it will tell you down below, how many FTE's, how many full-time equivalents, how many positions there are, what positions are in there, and how many are grant funded."
Describing the budget format as clearer and more transparent, Blouin said she tried to list as many items as possible under budget lines, "but I also tried to compact it so you're not getting a 70-page document."
Persson said in the area of grant funding, this new approach could alleviate some public confusion.
"When people look at our administrative budget vs. what others' are, it appears that we're top heavy, when in fact we're able to have these positions because of the fact we have the grant funding to be able to do it so I think it's great that we'll have that breakdown," he said.
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