Thursday, November 16, 2023

School district audit discovers $17 million deficit

The Wayne-Westland Community Schools district is facing an unexpected $17.6 million budget deficit.

School officials and members of the board of education learned of the budget deficit last week when an audit of district finances discovered the serious budget shortfall which officials had believed was, in fact, a surplus. Board of Education President David Cox reported the surprise findings during a meeting of the board members last week.

“At this moment, right now, we don't exactly know where we are, but we have a tremendous problem that has to be addressed,” Cox said in making the deficit public during the meeting.

According to the auditor's report, revenue in the district totaled $135 million for the 2023 fiscal year, while expenses totaled $152 million. 

Board members agreed that the findings will now require some difficult decisions in efforts to avoid a state takeover of district finances. To avoid that situation and be compliant with state law, the district must maintain 5 percent of the total operating budget. In Wayne Westland, that would be about $5 million, according to school officials. The district currently serves 9,790 students.

Parents expressed concerns that programs like music, art and sports would be subject to budget cuts or elimination.

District officials issued a public statement explaining that the discrepancy was not caused by deliberate miscalculations or misconduct. 

“With the complexity of today's budgets, which are made even more complex by the influx of various COVID funds, the discrepancies occurred within the budgeting processes rather than from actual transactions. The diligent efforts of the new financial leadership and staff have been instrumental in identifying these issues during the recent financial review and subsequent budget cycles. The district is diligently working toward obtaining a comprehensive understanding of the final budget projections,” the official statement said.