Superintendent feels comfortable with Onaway school budget

ONAWAY – Despite slumping enrollment and a shrinking general fund reserve, Onaway Area Community Schools Superintendent Rod Fullerton is mostly optimistic about the district’s finances.

The district spent more than it took in during the 2012-13 school year, with $6,080,012 in expenses and $5,634,353 in revenues, Fullerton said. However, the revenues were higher and expenses lower than originally budgeted. Student enrollment was down again, but not by as much as in previous years, and the district continues to find ways to cut costs.

“We are in as good financial health as can be, given the current economic climate of schools,” he said. “The auditor actually made a comment that we were better than most.”

Auditor Doug Wohlberg gave the district a “clean” opinion, meaning there are no accounting irregularities and the district follows the proper standards, Fullerton said. He also said the district’s funds are healthy, including its general fund reserve.

As a percentage of annual expenditures, the fund balance has dropped from 18 percent in the 2009 fiscal year to 11 percent for 2013, according to audit figures. The district’s fiscal years end on June 30, not too long after the school year. Even though the district still has some money set aside for emergencies, there’s less “wiggle room” than before, Fullerton said.

“We’re just going to hope our student count stabilizes, and we’ve continued to control expenditures,” he said.

Fullerton and others might not be hoping in vein. While student enrollment is down, dropping from 769 in 2009 to 673 in 2013, the drop between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years was the smallest in some time, according to audit figures. What’s more, ongoing job growth at nearby Moran Iron Works could bolster the district’s student count.

“It could help, it certainly couldn’t hurt,” Fullerton said.

In a bid to stabilize the district’s finances, the part-time guidance counselor and librarian were laid off after the 2012-13 school year, Fullerton said. Some staff will be retiring in 2014, and administrators have yet to determine how much the district can save by bringing in new teachers or not filling the positions.

Onaway’s per-pupil expenses are mostly on target with state averages, according to audit figures. It spends $4,737 per student on basic programs, just above the $4,543 average, and $1,144 per student for administration, just $1 above the state average. Its instructional support is considerably lower, at $356 per pupil compared to the state average of $927.

For the 2013 fiscal year, the district took in $2,618,845 in local revenues and $2,667,772 in state revenues. Money from the Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle Educational Services District totalled $238,016, and federal dollars totaled $347,736. State and ESD funding were somewhat higher than the previous year.

Health insurance expenses were down, to $820,087 in 2013 from $963,272, according to audit figures. This is due to the district opting for a hard cap on how much it spends on employee health care plans, Fullerton said.

In other business, school board members approved buying a second copy machine for the elementary school for $2,495, Fullerton said. It’s an effort to cut down repair costs on the school’s sole copier.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at