School district reserves are a better answer this time

The expense of sending student athletes to state competition the past couple of years exceeded the amount in the Wrangell School District budget. Auditors this summer discovered that the state travel account was overdrawn by about $36,000.

The district needs to balance its books, which means it needs to transfer money from somewhere to cover that hole.

One option under consideration by district officials is to take the funds from sports teams’ “class and club” accounts, which is where student activities deposit the money they collect from fundraising. The teams have used the accounts to save for extras, like uniforms, equipment or travel to events not covered in the district budget.

That money-transfer option was recently laid out in dollars and cents to coaches, who understandably are defensive about the money their teams raised and upset that district officials presented it as the first option on the table.

It appears the district had never told the coaches, or the players or their parents, that the state travel account was negative, which auditors only recently unveiled as a problem. The coaches were caught by surprise, they told the school board last week.

Those class and club accounts have not traditionally been used to fund district-sanctioned state travel, and it seems unfair at this point, after the fact, to pull from those accounts to cover overspending of the past two years. Changing the game after the play has run is poor sportsmanship.

A better one-time option is to pull the $36,000 from the school district’s reserves — with the emphasis on one time only. The reserves are healthy enough, at about $750,000, that the small withdrawal will not jeopardize the future of the account which is essential to ensuring that the district can maintain educational services when revenues come up short.

But just as the reserves are not a long-term solution to Wrangell’s school district financial woes, dipping into reserves to cover a one-time hole in the travel budget is not a permanent solution either. The district needs to do a better job of estimating and managing travel costs to state competition and deciding how much it can spend in its budget, while also confronting the mathematical fact that there is a limit to how much state travel the community can afford.

Hopefully, those decisions for the longer term will prevent a recurrence of the $36,000 overdraw, or at least have a plan for when more teams than expected go to state. For now, however, pulling the money out of the teams’ fundraising accounts during the school year seems unfair and unnecessary when there is a better option.

— Wrangell Sentinel


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