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updated: 3/25/2013 4:20 PM

Cary school district shows progress, earns financial reporting award

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Cary District 26 officials have new affirmation of their work cleaning up the district's finances.

The district received a certificate of excellence in financial reporting from the Association of School Business Officials International -- a feat finance director T. Ferrier said proves the toughest years are behind them.

For almost a decade the district spent about $2 million more than it took in, according to Ferrier, which put District 26 on the state's watch list and ultimately threatened the schools with state takeover.

"We're finally to the point where we're past all that," Ferrier said. "We're bringing back programs, we're decreasing class size, we're adding in specials."

Specials -- including dedicated art and music classes -- were cut during the 2010-11 school year to save money.

Voters approved a referendum in November 2010 that basically gave the district $15 million to get out of the hole. That money helped the district start over. The administration has managed to balance the budget since 2011 and Ferrier already projects the trend to continue in 2014.

Scott Coffey, school board member and chairman of the district's finance committee, said the latest award is a sign of the district's financial recovery. He, like Ferrier, points to the return of "specials" in the upcoming school year as well as reduced class sizes and new teacher hires.

"None of that would be able to occur if we hadn't gotten our fiscal house in order," Coffey said.

In some ways, District 26 got in and out of its financial crisis ahead of the rest of the state. Now, at a time when many districts are just starting to spend more than they take in because of lower state funding, District 26 is finishing its years with surpluses.

Ferrier said the finance staff continues to make projections based on anticipated cuts by the state and, for the last few years, has estimated accurately enough to stay within budget by year's end.

Besides the financial reporting award District 26 already earned this year, Ferrier said she is waiting to find out whether the district qualified for similar recognition from the Government Finance Officers Association.

This was District 26's first year completing a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which it submitted for the awards. Ferrier said the move will provide all district stakeholders access to 10 years of financial data as well as a narrative that includes far more information than the district has reported in past years.

"The CAFR is a presentation to the public that's a lot more transparent," Ferrier said.

For a copy of the district's financial report visit the finance and operations page at cary26.org.

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