During its latest regular meeting, the Clarinda School Board received a financial report for the 2020-21 school year after the State Auditor’s Office released its report for the school district on the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. Shirley Maxwell is the school business official with the district. Maxwell says one of the more impacted areas was the district’s proprietary funds — or “hot lunch” funds — which had an ending balance of roughly $183,000 compared to a beginning balance of $26,000. With federal waivers granting free hot lunch during the pandemic, Maxwell says the ending balance grew significantly due to the fund’s restrictions.
“Money that comes into this fund needs to be spent on hot lunch,” said Maxwell. “You can’t decide ‘oh, we need to hire a new teacher for the kindergarten class and we don’t have enough money so let’s use some of this money — we have a lot. But you can’t — it has to be strictly for hot lunch.”
The pandemic waivers — which were set to expire June 30 — did receive some extension through Congress through the “Keep Kids Fed Act,” which passed late last week. However, rather than providing free lunch for all students, the extension would require most low-income families to once again apply for the program and for kids who qualify for reduced-price meals to resume paying for breakfast and lunch.
Maxwell says the large ending balance is typically frowned upon by auditors.
“The auditor’s will look at this and say ‘you should not be carrying a balance more than three months of your expenditures,’ and some districts that are in the red all the time, they’re in trouble now because they’re carrying too much of a balance,” said Maxwell. “So you see them going out and maybe buying ovens or the big mixers and things like that to try to get their funds down so they aren’t carrying too much.”
Additionally, Maxwell says the district’s activities fund, which accounts for various district-sponsored activities such as athletics, music, and FFA, was also hit hard. Maxwell says the beginning balance was nearly $116,000 compared to an ending balance of $95,000.
“Because there was a while there we couldn’t even have sports, everybody still payed their coaches that had a contract during that time, and you had ball games that you had to limit — you could only let two people come in with a student that was playing,” said Maxwell. “So all of that being (in place) cut down the revenue. And I think that’s why you’re seeing problems with ending balances right now.”
However, Maxwell is optimistic the activities fund should bounce back quickly. In the State Auditor’s report, Maxwell says that aside from the typical segregation of duties, one student was still listed as enrolled through the now-former Clarinda Academy, and the district went roughly $39,000 over budget.