Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Standard Poor's: District finances stable:

The Monroe County School District has had its A+ credit rating affirmed by Standard and Poor's, and its outlook upgraded from "negative" to "stable," The Citizen has learned.

In a finding released last week, the New York City-based financial services company cited the district's "improved financial performance and increased general fund balance" in its decision to upgrade the district's rating.

The rating reflects S P's view of the district's general creditworthiness, as well as its low direct debt and improved financial operations, including improved reserve levels at the end of fiscal year 2013.

The report also notes the county's "large and diverse economy with strong wealth and income indicators."

"It's a reflection of where we want to be as a district as far as our finances go," said Jim Drake, district executive director of finance and performance.

The finding could lead to lower borrowing costs for the district, which appears to be finally turning its finances around after years of poor audit reports from the state.

District finances ran in the red from 2006 to 2010, which took a bite out of its fund balance. Beginning in fiscal year 2011, however, the district began posting surpluses, which have shored up its operating surplus to $4.4 million, and increased its total fund balance to $9.7 million, or 12.2 percent of expenditures, for fiscal year 2013.

State law mandates the district maintain a fund balance of at least 5 percent.

Last month, the district passed a $129.9 million balanced budget, which includes an operating budget, or general fund, of $84.5 million. The employee benefits package was shored up, and the district recently announced that it was buying back seven furlough days it had imposed on its workforce since 2011.

School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths on Friday expressed satisfaction with the S P report.

"It looks like good news that also proves we're turning the corner with our financial challenges," he said.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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