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|Parish school board to receive quarterly financial reports|
The Ouachita Parish School Board plans to review its financial situation every three months to make sure the parish school system's finances are in good shape.
The school board's business department monitors the budget throughout the year, but several school board members recently inquired about having the department provide updated reports on the system's finances at school board meetings.
Business manager Richie Garrett gave a general overview of the school board's finances during last week's regular meeting. He said the school system's budget never remains the same because almost daily a principal requests additional teachers and maintenance issues arise, which cost the school system money to repair.
"This is something we have to monitor throughout the year, and we have to make decisions every day," Garrett said.
State law requires school systems to adopt an investment policy, which Ouachita Parish Schools approved several years ago.
In spite of the economic downturn in the U.S. economy, Ouachita Parish Schools' investments and retirement funds remain safe, according to Garrett.
The school system's investment manager, Sharon Bridges, is conservative in handling the school system's investments, Garrett said.
Bridges said money the school board has not allocated for a specific purpose is invested "in the best possible way." The main focus when investing the school system's money is to manage the public funds in the safest manner possible, she said.
"If we invest $1 million, we don't want to lose $1 of it," Bridges said. "I want to get back $1 million, plus hopefully some interest."
"I'm trying to make the best possible decisions for the school district," Bridges explained. "When you are investing millions of dollars, there's not a whole lot of options you can do with the money. You have to buy things that are large, in bulk, to have a place to put it."
The school system also uses the Louisiana Asset Management Pools, which is governed per state law. Liquidity also is very fast in this investment pool, Bridges said, so whenever she places money into the pool, she can quickly access it whenever the school system needs it.
"If I need to write a check one day for a very large amount, I need to be able to call the back that day to be able to put the money in the bank," she said. "Liquidity means I can get the cash when I need it."
The other top goal with investments is to earn as much money as possible for the school system. Last year the school system earned $2 million from interest on its various investments. She said that occurred in spite of interest rates paid on investments dropping from 5 percent to 1 percent throughout 2008.
"I could have made more interest if the rates hadn't dropped, but that's something we have no control over," she said.
One way Bridges works to minimize the school system's risk with investments is to spread the money around, so there's no more than 25 percent of the system's money invested with one group.
"We try to spread it out as much as we can" she said.
Bridges said the school system has not invested any money with any of the financial firms that recently filed for bankruptcy. However, she said one never knows if any of those firms the school system has investments with will go under in the current market conditions.
"It can happen any time in this market," Bridges said. "Hopefully it won't happen. But we purchase government bonds, so even if, say, Merrill Lynch closes, I can still get our money with those government bonds."
Garrett added, "Our philosophy is we're not going to lose anything, but we may not make 15 to 20 percent return playing the stock market."
As far as the school system's budget is concerned, Garrett said it is the school system's expenditures that are "on a roller coaster ride."
The biggest expenditures in the system's budget are for salaries and related benefits for employees. That amounts to about 87 percent of the general fund budget.
Currently the system's general fund expenditures are running at $130 million. Of that amount, $114 million is spent on salaries and benefits.
Garrett's 2009 fund balance projection for the school system is right at $15 million. He believes that fund balance should be maintained at its current rate and not dip any lower.
The school system would have to closely monitor its expenditures throughout the 2009 fiscal year to maintain that fund balance.