Zila to present budget proposal to St. Vrain

By Kendra E. Fish
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — A budget and an auditor are two of the few remaining pieces left as the St. Vrain Valley School District works to complete a financial puzzle that has left officials scratching their heads since November’s revelation of a $13.8 million deficit.

Tonight, at the school board’s regular meeting, the district will hire an auditor, and Superintendent Randy Zila will present the board with the 2003-04 proposed budget.

According to Zila, the budget is similar to the preliminary budget draft that Roger Driver, the district’s former financial consultant, presented at a board work session on April 21.

“There have been some very minor changes,” Zila said Monday.

The preliminary draft showed the district to be $2.98 million in the hole at the start of the 2003-04 school year, which is July 1. At the end of the 2003-04 fiscal year, the district would have an ending balance of $0.

To reach these goals the district had to cut, among a list of others, some district support for art, music and physical education activities, as well as 18 staff positions.

Total district program reductions amounted to $1.16 million, and staff cuts resulted in $2.29 million in savings.

Copies of the newer version were not available Tuesday.

“It is still getting ready to go,” said Nancy Herbert, the district’s spokeswoman. “Some figures are still being finalized.”

These figures include projected health benefit costs, she said. The district will likely see a rise in health-insurance costs when the policy is updated in October.

“It has been difficult securing some final projections,” she said.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will take place May 28, and the board will adopt the final version June 11.

Another unknown Tuesday is whom the district will hire as its independent financial auditor. According to the agenda, the board is set to approve an auditor to take the place of Swanhorst & Cutler, LLC, which resigned in February.

According to Wendy Swanhorst’s Feb. 12 resignation letter, the firm resigned because “the board (of education) is comprised of certain members who have intentionally and maliciously made statements to the public that are untrue, misleading and designed to harm Swanhorst & Cutler, LLC.”

Some board members had said publicly that Swanhorst should have been watching the district’s finances more closely throughout the 2001-02 school year in order to alert them to any red flags regarding spending and the multimillion-dollar deficit.

Tonight’s board agenda contains blank lines to be filled in with the name of the firm and how much the district will be charged.

State law requires all district funds and accounts to be audited by an independent firm.

According to Herbert, St. Vrain Chief Financial Officer Mark Pillmore was not ready to release his recommendation until today.

Pillmore and the district’s recently formed Finance and Audit Committee have been reviewing four auditing firms. They are Grant Thornton, LLP, which has offices in Colorado Springs; Johnson, Holscher & Company, P.C., with offices in Greenwood Village; Bondi & Co., LLC, with offices in Denver; and Clifton Gunderson, LLP, with offices in Denver.

The board also will hear a report on the district’s goals for student achievement tonight. These goals are required by federal guidelines and are based on student Colorado Student Assessment Program scores.

According to these goals approved by the district’s Accountability/Accreditation Committee Tuesday night, the district would like to see the number of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading to improve from 65 percent in the 2001-02 school year to 81 percent by the 2005-06 school year. This is increase of 4 percentage points per year.

Under these goals, the district would like to see writing scores improve from 51 percent in the 2001-02 school year to 67 percent in 2005-06, and math from 42 percent to 58 percent.

Kendra Fish can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at kfish@times-call.com.


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