MAPS business office faces ever-changing challenges

Manistee Area Public Schools Business Manager Howard Vaas addresses the board of education on the budget.

Manistee Area Public Schools Business Manager Howard Vaas addresses the board of education on the budget.

MANISTEE — School budgets and finance are a challenge to every school district in Michigan.

At the Manistee Area Public Schools, business manager Howard Vaas and his dedicated small staff work hard on a daily basis maintaining a watchful eye over the school finances. The staff also handles the payroll and benefit needs for the district’s 169 full-time employees.

Each year state funding brings new uncertainty to school funding and ever-changing mandates put additional pressure on business staff members to keep on top of all the new information.

Today Vaas talks about how the Manistee Area Public Schools business office handles those challenges.

News Advocate: Can you tell us who works in the MAPS business office, and what duties they perform?

Vaas: Nancy Day is in our our office, and she is the primarily the superintendent’s secretary. Julie Stec’s main tasks are payroll and insurance, although we all do whatever else needs to be done. Sue Gustad is accounts payable and general ledger. Everything that they do I oversee plus transportation, food service, facilities, budget, daily operations and everything else that needs to get done.

News Advocate: What is MAPS’ budget and what role does your department play in preparation of it?

Vaas: Our general fund budget runs right now at about $14.6 million and if you add in the other things like food service, debt service, the pool it is $16.9 million. At out last audited budget all funds were $17.5 million.

We kind of use a continuing budget by building off the prior year’s budget. We talk about the things that are planned for the year and what we are going to do different. It could be adding programs or staffing changes and the budget is modified to incorporate those things. There is input from the superintendent, principals, facility director, transportation and technology departments.

We put together the proposed budget, and that goes to the board for their consideration and is adopted. Our office kind of pulls it all together. That includes not just  in developing it, but making sure things are in line and what adjustments have to be made during the year.

News Advocate: What types of things does your office do during the year to make sure the budget is being followed?

Vaas: It is an ongoing process, as we are spending money throughout the year and constantly comparing our budget to actual. Then we make a mid-year budget adjustment in March and a final adjustment in June. We also give monthly updates to the board.

News Advocate: How many employees does the district employ, and what services does your office provide for them?

Vaas: We handle payroll and insurance through our office. We help employees with adjustments to withholding or if they like to defer revenue. That is our direct impact with employees. There is 169 people here all the time  but this year we had 269 W2s that we wrote this year. The 169 are the full-time people doesn’t include coaches and people like that.

News Advocate: How difficult is it to keep up with the ever-changing mandates that are handed down from the state?

Vaas: It’s challenging, but we rely on guidance from the Michigan School Business officials as I am member of that organization and attend their conferences. They provide a lot of good information. Kris Mauntler (Manistee County School Business Cooperative finance director) sends me things from time-to-time to make sure I am aware of them.

The things that are changing are never ending, and it does seem in the 20 plus years that I have been here that it is rapidly expanding. When I got here, there were three retirement rates and now there are 20 some options. It is all part of the job — keep up and keep running.

News Adovcate: What is the biggest challenges the business office faces today?

Vaas: The biggest thing that we deal with that is a challenge to the district is finance. I think if you ask (former MAPS business manager and superintendent) John Kuenzli there is so much financial uncertainty because the funding proposal has changed from before Proposal A to now. There is so many variables and moving pieces every year, and finance is a challenge to keep in front of and to plan accordingly.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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