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Lackawanna schools pledge better budgeting after audit

Lackawanna School Board members and district administrators say they will take a longer-range approach to budgeting, following criticism leveled in a state audit.

The state Office of the Comptroller said the School Board failed to use multiyear financial planning and, as a result, did not foresee the district’s “deteriorating financial condition.”

The audit faulted the board for relying too heavily on its fund balance to fill gaps, allocating about $5 million a year over a four-year period starting in the 2009-10 fiscal year. The district depleted its financial cushion against revenue shortfalls and unexpected events, and recorded operating deficits in three of the four years examined in the audit.

Although the School Board reduced appropriations by more than $2 million in the 2014-15 fiscal budget, “There is a risk that a significant structural gap remains that will be need to be addressed,” the report said.

Multiyear financial planning helps ensure budget trends “are realistic and sustainable in the long run, without relying on one-time revenues or funding sources or borrowing.”

In a written response sent in July, Lackawanna district and School Board officials said they will use multiyear planning, and look for ways to cut costs and increase revenues to reduce reliance on the fund balance.

“We will use your recommendations as a resource to help us strengthen our budgeting practices and to effectively plan and manage the district’s financial operations,” said Lisa A. Almasi, assistant superintendent for administrative services.

The Lackawanna district operates four schools with about 1,700 students, a total that has dropped by about 200 in the past four years, the audit said.