Nampa schools' woes grow

The district will use a short-term loan to repay a bond fund - a new 'minefield.'

broberts@idahostatesman.comMay 8, 2013 

Just as the Nampa School District was making headway on reducing an $8 million budget problem, the district got hit with another $1.2 million it must pay.

The district spent the money on general school operations when it was supposed to go into a debt-service fund to pay bonds between 2004 and 2008, district officials told Nampa's school board Tuesday night.

The district already is dealing with a $5.1 million deficit and an additional$3 million it hopes to make in cuts to keep from having another deficit in the 2013-14 school year.

The $1.2 million came to the district, much of it from taxpayers, to be routed to a collection fund before being transferred to help pay the district's $130 million bond debt. Instead, the money stayed in the general fund and was spent, district officials said Tuesday.

The money is not missing, school officials said, but it has to be paid back.

District officials blamed inconsistent internal financial controls for part of the problem. Better controls are now in place, said Michelle Yankovich, district financial officer.

Failure to transfer the bond-payment money appears to be "inadvertent negligence," said Nick Miller, a bond counsel with Hawley Troxell, the law firm that worked with the district on the issue.

Nampa school officials discovered the problem in late November and spent several months checking records back 10 years before reporting it to the board of trustees.

"It seems like every month we come into these sessions and there is another minefield that has been discovered," said Bob Otten, a school board member running for re-election May 21. "It appears the people in charge did not know what they were doing."

The board voted Tuesday to use part of a $6.3 million short-term loan - which the district expects to take out this summer to meet other expenses - to repay the bond fund.

The loan, authorized by the board Tuesday night, is expected to be repaid after the district gets its first state school payment in August.

Budget problems emerged on several fronts beginning last year as district officials double-counted revenue, under-budgeted expenses and miscalculated the number of students on which much of the district's state funding is based.

In response, the district won voter approval in March for a $4.3 million, one-year levy to help pay the bills. It also closed Sunny Ridge Elementary School beginning next year, curtailed some district busing and outsourced district janitors to a private company in cost-saving moves totaling $1.1 million.

Nampa schools still faces trimming the teaching force by up to 50 instructors, which could save more than $2 million. But parents worry that reducing the teaching staff will increase class sizes. District officials say cuts could hit low-enrollment elective classes in high school.

Even with all the cuts, Nampa's money problems aren't over. The district could need to trim even more beginning in the 2014-15 school year to restore its reserve fund, which the district need to replenish to help schools meet unexpected expenses.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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