County schools top reserve list

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, December 15, 2010

While some school systems across the state find themselves in a state of financial disarray, Covington County Schools heads the state in the number of months operating reserves in the bank.

The Andalusia and Opp city schools are also holding steady.

Covington County Schools currently holds 7.7 months worth of operating expenses in its reserve, well over the one month required by the state of Alabama. One month’s operations for Covington County Schools requires about $1.75 million.

In fact, the system has increased its reserves the past three years, even when dealing with prorated budgets. It ended the 2009 fiscal year with 7.3 months in reserves and the 2008 fiscal year with 6.8 months in reserves.

Superintendent Terry Holley said the success is from “taking a daily look at the finances.”

“We’ve decreased our spending,” Holley said. “It’s a day-to-day operation. We have tightened our belts.”

It’s a process the system has made a priority to prepare for times of uncertainty.

“All of the band aids are gone,” Holley said. “It’s been an ongoing process not only with me, but with our other superintendents and board. We’ll continue to do that, and we’ll always concentrate on that area.

“(The future) does look bleak as far as revenues,” he said. “We hope to hold steady.

“Every system has different problems they have to deal with in their own way,” he said. “We are very conservative with a lot of things, but we try to make sure we have quality programs.”

Covington County Schools isn’t the only system in the county to have more than one month’s operating reserve.

Though smaller in size, Opp City Schools has maintained 2.9 months worth of operating reserves despite three straight years of proration. It closed the 2009 fiscal year with 2.8 months operating reserves. One month’s operations requires about $718,000.

OCS Superintendent Michael Smithart said there are only about 12 or 13 school systems who have a greater percentage of reserve funds than Opp City Schools.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Smithart thanked board members for making “hard, but necessary decisions” to ensure the system’s future.

“The decisions you have made have placed us in a sound financial position,” he said.

Smithart said that traditionally, during “ordinary” times, school systems should use reserve funds to make improvements.

“But these are extraordinary times,” he said. “However, it does appear on the state level that things are growing.”

Andalusia City Schools has the one-month required operating balance, which is down from 1.5 months at the end of the 2009 fiscal year. One month’s operating requires about $976,000.

Still, 60 other schools systems within the state do not have the one-month reserves and are operating off of lines of credit.

“Obviously you want to have as high (operating reserves) as you can,” ACS Superintendent Ted Watson said. “The one-month has historically been the stopping point where we measure services for kids and keeping the money in the bank. We feel we are very fortunate to still have the one-month reserves. A lot of other school systems aren’t that fortunate.”

Watson said that Andalusia City Schools has traditionally averaged one month’s reserves, but has had as much as two months.