‘Mistake’ to cost GCS $1.4 million

Granville School District residents will be picking up the tab on a $1.4 million clerical error relating to the funding of the current building project, the Sentinel learned Tuesday afternoon.

When Granville School District officials pitched the EXCEL aid project to the voters in 2006, they said its tax impact amounted to nothing, nada, zero.

On Tuesday, however, school officials announced the project, which received voter approval in 2007, will cost approximately $1.4 million more than expected following the recent discovery of what appears to be a clerical error.

In making the announcement, Superintendent Mark Bessen and school board officials emphasized the mistake will not increase taxes directly, but will necessitate use of the district’s fund balance to help close the gap.

Bessen said the situation stemmed from an error in reporting the school resident enrollment that was discovered as the district was going out to bond on the EXCEL (Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning) aid project as it wraps up.

While the school’s actual attendance number was 1,453 students in 2006, the report submitted for determining the school’s aid percentage was given as 1,703.

District officials said they could not explain where the error originated, and school board members said the attendance number is not one they would have seen.

“It could have been a typo. We don’t know. It’s a computer entry that goes in to the state’s management system,” Bessen said.

Contacted Tuesday, former Superintendent Daniel Teplesky said he would have been the person to approve the report input by the business manager with information provided from the district information officer.

“I’m unsure of why 1,700 was used; for the five years I was at Granville the number was right around 1,500,” Teplesky said.

“I have to trust the individuals in that department for the correct data,” he said. Information officer Dan Nelson could not be reached for comment at press time. Former business manager Robert Sheridan said the financial consultants for the project would have used that attendance number when working with the state to establish the funding for the project.

Teplesky said he would not have done a line-by-line analysis of the report submitted to the state.

The project could have been scaled back to accommodate the lower aid number if officials had been aware of the discrepancy, Teplesky said.  “We could have scaled back and still been under budget. I would have been more than happy to scale it back so it did not cost the taxpayers one cent,” Teplesky said.

In 2006 the district was informed it would receive 98 percent aid for the building project and using the $1.1 million available from the state in EXCEL aid could achieve an $18.3 million project with zero local tax impact.

Officials now say the 250-student population reporting error will reduce the aid percentage to 95.3 percent, meaning the district will have to cover 4.7 percent, or about $1.4 million in costs.

Board of Education President Kathy Nelson said board members began to formulate a plan as soon as they were aware of the error.

Nelson said $250,000 in fund balance will be used over the next six years to make the $60,000 payments on the local share.

“That way it does not cause any major fluctuations in the tax rate. It keeps things level and stable,” Bessen said.

Granville was recently cited by auditors for carrying a larger than recommended fund balance, some of which was used to keep school taxes from increasing in the last budget.

Board Vice President John Steves said the use of the fund balance will reduce the district’s flexibility in budgeting through tough times.

“Our leeway is reduced by $250,000,” Bessen said.

“Our main thing since the beginning has been no tax impact. That’s what we told the architects. That’s what we told everyone, so it’s kind of a shock,” Nelson said. “The fund balance is obviously taxpayer money, so we can’t say no tax impact even if the rate stays flat because it is taxpayer money.”

After six years the district has two other building projects that will be paid for, and that funding will be used to make the payments until the $1.4 million is paid off in 2025.  Despite the local cost, Nelson said she still thought the school got a great deal for what came in the project.

Nelson also said the project could have been scaled back if officials were aware of the error at the time. “In the end it’s still a good deal for us, but when you make a promise you want to keep it,” Nelson said.

“I agree with Kathy. We came to the voters with a promise and it hurts to not be able to deliver that, but then I got to thinking about it over the weekend. The total expenditure was a little over $17 million. If you take this list and look at what we’ve done with that $17 million it’s a good deal,” Steves said.

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