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NAMPA -- As feared, the budget shortfall in the Nampa School District is much worse than originally thought. A once projected $2.8 million dollar deficit is now $4.5 million, and drastic changes need to be made for this year's spending.

The district says mistakes that lead to a budget shortfall last year were carried over to this year's budget, meaning the shortfall is worse than initially thought. The district gets annual audits, but officials say those audits only checked spending not how the starting amount or budget was calculated.

District: Overestimates, double-counting caused miscalculations

At the beginning of the school year, an annual audit of the previous year's spending identified a $2.8 million dollar deficit, but more trouble was hidden in the spreadsheets.

So as that was going on, our finance officer and our deputy superintendent wanted to look at our existing year's budget. Did we have some of the same errors impacting our spending this year? And we do, Nampa School District Spokesperson Allison Westfall said.

Now, it appears the shortfall from last year was actually a bit lower, $2.4 million. The deficit was due to double counting and overestimating revenue.

There were some errors that influenced our budget recommendations. So there was some one-time funding that was counted on one year and then also appears on another year. It would be like on your family budget if you did a deposit twice, Westfall said.

Errors repeated into the current year's budget

Auditors this week discovered those same errors were written into this year's budget, increasing the actual overall projected deficit to a total of $4.5 million.

We actually should have been making deeper cuts earlier in the year. Just like other school districts have been doing, we should have cut even deeper, Westfall said.

The district's total projected spending for the year is $68.7 million. A $4.5 million projected deficit would be 6.6% of that projected overall spending. Balancing the budget of a year already in progress will be difficult as some expenses, like teacher pay, are already set and untouchable.

The majority of our costs right now, over 80%, are staffing costs, and most of our staffs have a contract that we can't change mid-year, Westfall said.

District must balance budget with cuts or new revenue

The district could make cuts to areas like supplies, transportation, and currently unfilled positions. The district could also seek to raise revenue, possibly by selling property.

A budget committee is set to begin looking at those types of ideas starting on Monday to fix what's happened over the last few years. That will happen as the district seeks to make sure this doesn't happen again.

One of the things our board has authorized is to have a second audit come in to focus more on those budgeting issues. Where were the exact errors? What things could change? [We'll answer those] to help us so we can prepare a budget for next year that won't contain those same mistakes, Westfall said.

The state constitution requires districts to balance their budgets. Once the district figures out a solution, the Idaho State Department of Education says the district will need to submit the amended budget for approval.

After resignation, search ongoing for new superintendent

The district's superintendent Gary Larsen resigned earlier in the week, taking responsibility for some of the errors made. The district explains he felt responsible for some staffing decisions made as the district made cuts.

The school board will appoint a committee to look for and recruit an interim superintendent and will also look for a permanent replacement. Westfall says they'll be finalizing details in next few days, and the public should hear more next week.

District says whistleblower lawsuit unrelated

Earlier this year, former employee Danielle Sisayaket filed a lawsuit against the school alleging accounting errors within the district. The lawsuit was filed against the district because Sisayaket feels she was fired because she kept bringing up her money concerns with her bosses. Westfall says the lawsuit has nothing to do with the budget shortfall.

I know because it deals with money and finances, people connect them, but they're different issues, Westfall said. This issue before us now has to do with budgeting and estimating revenues. The lawsuit, which is still in the courts, has to do with more specific accounting issues.

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