Chandler Unified board ponders limit on cash reserve withdrawals - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Unified board ponders limit on cash reserve withdrawals

February 1st, 2023 SanTan Sun News
Chandler Unified board ponders limit on cash reserve withdrawals

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Chandler Unified School District Superintendent Frank Narducci said it took decades to build up a cash reserve of $60 million and the district wants to make sure it won’t disappear quickly.

For the first time, the district is putting limits on how much of its cash reserve officials can dip into in any one year. District officials asked the Governing Board to approve a proclamation limiting the amount they could withdraw in one year to 10%.

Not good enough, one of the two new members said.

“Why is this not a policy?” Kurt Rohrs asked in his first full meeting sitting behind the dais since winning his seat in November’s election. “A resolution really doesn’t have much weight. It’s really just a guideline.”

The timing for placing a limit on the cash reserve fund comes as state lawmakers still have not passed an override to the Aggregate Expenditure Limit – a constitutional amendment passed in the early 1980s that places a limit on how much districts can spend in year based on a formula.

If the override is not passed by March 1, CUSD will have to trim $17 million from its planned spending for the final quarter of the current school year, beginning April 1.

The money is there, it has already been approved by the state Legislature. But without waiving the spending cap or eliminating it altogether, the district won’t be able to spend it.

Lana Berry, chief financial officer for CUSD, said the district could use some of the cash reserve funds to lessen the cutbacks if the spending cap is not waived, but it would require shuffling expenses around so that they can be covered by the cash account.

Berry said the district has three separate reserve funds: The cash account, another for maintenance and operations and the third for capital improvement.

Because most of the cuts would have to come from maintenance and operations, district officials would have to find ways to justify moving some of those costs to cash to use that reserve fund.

Berry said the uncertainty over the Aggregate Expenditure Limit had nothing to do with the timing of this request to the board.

“When COVID happened, we spent about $18 million of our reserves before we ever started to get reimbursed, or know that there were additional federal dollars coming in,” Berry said.

That amount would easily exceed the 10% limit. However, the federal government ended up sending millions to schools to cover their increased costs because of the pandemic.

The 10% limit would not be a hard cap. The governing board would always have the flexibility of voting to exceed it if the situation called for it, Berry said.

Rohrs convinced the other board members to pursue making the limit a district policy.

With that assurance, he voted with the four other board members to approve the resolution. Narducci said he will get to work on writing a policy, but since this is a new concept that has not been used in CUSD or anywhere else that he is aware of, district officials need to do their research.

“It would be hard to generate those [that amount of money] over the next 30 years of what was generated over the last 40,” Narducci said, pointing out CUSD had been a fast-growing district over the past four decades but now officials expect enrollment to either stagnate or drop.

“So we wanted to have some resolution that gave the board power of at least thought, … that they would have to approve anything over the 10%, so that money wasn’t squandered on certain things that might be needed down the road.”

In other action during the board’s Jan. 18 meeting:

Teacher bonuses

It appears the board will approve a $700 bonus to teachers if they earned it through their performance. That’s a significant drop from the $3,200 they received last year.

“The majority of the money that we’ve had in the past has been moved into the salary,” said Dr. Craig Gilbert, the district’s associate superintendent for Pre-K through 12 educational services.

Katie Nash is the former president of the Chandler Education Association, which represents CUSD teachers. She no longer works in the district, but now works for the Arizona Education Association. She said the Chandler group has yet to elect a new president.

Nash said that when teachers first heard about the drop, they were very concerned. However, once they learned the details and saw the salary increase they were getting, most support the plan.

The district sent out a survey and they said 99% of teachers supported their proposal.

Mental health

New board President Jason Olive, who was selected at the board’s Jan. 11 meeting, said he wants a study session on mental health and teen suicide put on the agenda of the board’s next meeting. Also at the Jan. 11, Rohrs and Patti Serrano were sworn into office.

It was good timing. More than 30 people showed up in the audience to support two people who spoke during public comments.

Chandler High senior Riana Alexander called on the board to work with the community to find answers.

“We applaud what the district is already doing to take action on mental health, in particular the Hope Institute,” Riana said. The Hope Institute is one of three health care providers the district is partnering with to help struggling students and staff.

“However, we know that mental health is not an issue that the district can tackle on their own,” Riana added. “We are asking for a community action advisory board made up of students and community members to work with the district and board to implement critical resources to students suffering with depression, anxiety, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and other mental illnesses.”

As soon as Riana was called to speak, more than 30 people in the audience stood up and remained standing until she and the Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan of the Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Chandler were done speaking. The church belongs to the Valley Interfaith Project.

“Valley Interfaith Project looks forward to working with the board and students to implement an advisory board to collaborate on this goal,” she said, supporting Riana’s call for a community action advisory board.