Insights on the school budget process

Michael Kalvig is the Chief Financial Officer for Central Rivers AEA. Contributed Photo.

Public schools in Iowa are required to have their school board adopt a budget and have it submitted to the county auditor by April 15 each year. One of the main purposes of the budget is to set the maximum level of expenditures the district intends to spend in the next fiscal year. As a citizen of a school district, the maximum tax rate that is being certified in the budget may also be of interest to you.

In most school districts, the school business official and superintendent are responsible for preparing the budget for adoption. They go through a process of reviewing the revenue and expenditures, ensure the balances for each of the funds are adequate and set the property tax rates accordingly. Some districts also utilize an income surtax rate that serves as a method to reduce the burden on property tax payers and collect some funding from income tax payers.

Before the budget is adopted by the school board, the budget and public hearing date are published in a newspaper of general circulation within the district. The published budget includes a summary of revenues and expenditures of many different funds. The most common funds summarized on the budget are the General Fund, Student Activity Fund, Management Fund, Sales Tax Fund, Physical, Plant, and Equipment Levy (PPEL), Debt Service and Nutrition. Each fund is used for a specific purpose which can be found in Iowa Administrative Code 281.

The public hearing is a chance for community members to provide comments on the proposed budget before it is adopted by the School Board. I would recommend you contact your school business office prior to the public hearing if you do have questions or concerns about the budget. It is always best to ask questions and make sure you understand what is being presented prior to making comments at the public hearing.

The budget process is important for transparency. Transparency promotes accountability, which helps to ensure public resources are used efficiently and effectively. Should you be interested in school finance or other school operations, I would encourage you to consider running for your local school board. It is a great opportunity to serve your community and the experience can be informative and rewarding.

Michael Kalvig is the Chief Financial Officer for Central Rivers AEA. He can be reached at mkalvig@centralriversaea.org. Central Rivers Area Education Agency provides leadership and service to 53 public and 18 non-public schools in an 18-county area of north central Iowa. Learn more at www.centralriversaea.org.