District defends budget, while parent says he found discrepancy

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- For School District 51, it has been hard work making budget cuts four years in a row, but after doing some digging, one Mesa County parent is questioning the cuts after he says he found a $2 million surplus in the budget.

After crunching the numbers on two separate government websites, Kevin King came across a number that shows the district is not in the red, but instead has a more than $2 million surplus.

The district said that the money isn't extra. It's federal grant money dating back to when President Obama first took office.

"It just raises a lot of interesting flags for the taxpayers and the businesses of Mesa County," said King, who also published his findings in a blog, vetthegov.com.

King came across the number in question on the district's 2010- 2011 financial breakdown after hours of research on two government websites: the Colorado Department of Education and School View's Data Center.

"For 2010- 2011, there was a $2.124 million surplus, so it sort of raised my eyebrows a bit there," King said.

Here's where King got the numbers:

When looking at data from the Colorado Department of Education's school view page, District 51's total revenue for 2011 is $212,037,042, while the total use of funds only show $209,758,019, leaving $2,279,023 seemingly unaccounted for.

"We've just been hearing about how much money they didn't have, so it just created a little question mark in my head to start digging a little bit deeper," King said.

The district's website shows a different number for their re-adopted budget from that year, but officials say that's due to variations throughout the year, like total enrollment.

"The budget will always be different than your actuals because a budget is a forecast or a plan of how you spend those dollars," said Melissa Callahan Devita, District 51's chief operations officer. She says the $2 million isn't a surplus at all.

"It came from the federal government's ARA funds, which are pretty much one time monies," Devita said.

The funds were part of President Obama's 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment act, aimed to help schools during the failing economy, Devita says, in the form of special education and Title One funds that could only be used for low socio-economic students and cannot be used in any other part of the budget.

"We were given those funds to spend over two years, so that is the carry over of those funds for the second year, and then those funds were spent in the '11- '12 school year," Devita said.

King says while the district's computing makes sense, he'd still like to see the numbers for himself.

"I'd like to know how that's distributed and who receives that, so I'd like to see the whole budget posted on District 51's website, not just a snapshot," he said.

Another one of King's questions was, "how do we know the district is spending the federal money where they're supposed to?"

The district’s answer: "Those funds come with extremely restricted uses, and they have an independent company who does audits to verify they are used for the appropriate purpose."

If you think the district isn’t being transparent and you have questions or concerns, the district says to call or stop by their office.

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