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West Fargo's budget burden

The clock is ticking for the West Fargo School District to get its $89 million budget figured out by the Aug. 9 deadline.

That leaves precious time for administration and staff to unravel the mess left by past leaders.

"It's really difficult to know for certain all the rationale behind these decisions," said Mark Lemer, West Fargo Public Schools Business Manager.

At Monday's school board meeting, Lemer presented more than 60 pages worth of numbers, compiled during the three weeks since he took over for former Business Manager Joe Sykora.

The documents are "an attempt to create a baseline to work with," Lemer said, who also was the Business Manager before Sykora. The budget draft is a "summary as it was complied by former administration."

According to the draft, the district should see growth of $113,689.25 overall, although Lemer admitted the numbers aren't static.

"We are very likely to see movement as we move forward with this," he said.

The district's biggest budgeting chunk comes from its more than $67 million general fund, in which Lemer projected growth of $300,000.

School board members and staff have complained in the past about difficulty in discerning budget numbers. Lemer and Superintendent Dr. David Flowers said they are working to create a streamlined, user-friendly, balanced budget, but unlikely will succeed by Aug. 9.

Working out all the details and fine points in two more weeks is an unlikely scenario, they said. For an example, finding out why and how $583,000 was cut from the last budget could take much longer.

"If we could get to a point where we can address those issues (by the deadline), that would be great," Lemer said. "But we probably won't."

Since the district must have a budget ready to hand in to the state by Aug. 9, Lemer said there are two options the board could consider.

The first would be to keep the budget as it is handed in at the deadline, and move money around internally during the months thereafter. The other, more drastic option would be to rescind the budget and rework it in order to get numbers in line.

As far as deductions in the budget, Lemer said it may be able to restore some, but that too is unknown at this time.

"Some area where cuts were made hopefully are sustainable, but in reality, we will spend what we need to," he said. An example given was the budget for heating oil, which was drastically cut in the last budget.

If it is cold and a school's tank is empty, "we're going to buy more heating oil," Lemer said.

Another large deduction came in the drama department, which saw its budget decrease from $50,000 to just $5,000.

"I can't tell you who was involved with those reductions," Lemer said.

Flowers said it will be a "prioritization process" to figure out the budgeting allotments. Lemer said the next step in the process is to analyze funds and create a more detailed justification.

"We may want to make significant changes in upcoming months, but I'm hoping that's not the case," he said.

The board members said they felt secure knowing Flowers and Lemer were spearheading the budget effort.

"Both of these gentlemen have only been on for three weeks, so I think it's amazing what they've accomplished in that time," President Karen Nitzkorski said.

"Trusting these people won't be a problem," board member Angela Korsmo said.