District forces teachers to spend budget by end of April

Urmilla Kuttikad

Making ends meet: Complying with the earlier deadline, departments must spend any surplus money from their budgets by April 30. The library bought a full shelf of new books available for checkout with their leftover funds. Photo by Asa Lory

At the beginning of the year, each department head at RBHS received a specific amount of money for supplies, from pencils and erasers to larger purchases like textbooks and new software.

Part of each department head’s job is making sure teachers carefully ration the money throughout the school year so that there’s no surplus or deficit of money by the end of the year.

However, there was a snag. The day that all the money had to be spent by wasn’t the last day of school, nor was it the last week or even the last month. All the money had to be spent by April 30.

This meant one of two things. For some teachers, it meant having no money left for the last month of school, regardless of budgetary needs. For others, it meant hurrying to spend their budget by the deadline.

This dash to spend money may seem odd, but Jim Meyer, head of the world languages department, said it stems from teachers not spending their money. The assumption is then made that the teachers don’t need the money, and their budget for the next school year would be cut.

“We do, in fact, need the money,” Meyer said.”We just don’t always take the time to think about what it should go towards. I make a point of making sure that we in this department do that, because I don’t want us to lose the money.”

Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher attributes further reasons to the need to spend money by the April 30 deadline.

Belcher said the intent behind the deadline is to ensure that bills will be paid off by July. This way, the district can keep track of new budgets before the summer ends and schools can start spending their money.

“It’s bookkeeping, really,” Belcher said. “Just a matter of trying to make sure that money’s expended in the budget cycle this year and that we can clear all our bills by the end of June, so that when we start the July budget, everything’s accurate.”

If teachers are not trying to spend their allotted money by the deadline to comply with the bookkeeping, it’s because they have already spent it. This becomes a problem when situations come up that demand money in the last month of school, and there aren’t any funds left.

“We get into predicaments where we run out of something or the printer runs out of toner and things that just happen late in the school year,” Lisa Holt, head of the RBHS math department said, “and then we’re kind of stuck; the money’s gone.”

Sometimes having to spend money by the deadline isn’t such a bad thing. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, literacy seminar teacher, wrote a grant, but it was not approved. At the last minute, she found money earmarked for her class.

“I wanted to take my kids on a field trip to Barnes and Noble and let them each pick out their own book and then go to MU and have a reading party on the Quad and read our new books and go to lunch and come back to school,” Fishman-Weaver said. “But with the buses and the cost of the books, it’s a good chunk of change and so I’m hoping this money will make that possible.”

Unfortunately, there have not been a lot of stories like Fishman-Weaver’s this year.

Budgetary cuts to all levels of education in recent years have ensured that there has not been much excess money lying around for teachers to use; but Belcher said that might change next year with an expected increase in funding.

“Because we passed the levy, we’ve increased the supply budget for all teachers by $100,000,” Belcher said. “So next year, everyone will get a percentage increase in their budgets. … They can start having more things that they’ve not been able to purchase in the recent years.”
By Urmila Kutikkad