When Aa2 equals A+

Hazel Bauman got a report card. She earned a very distinctive A.

So did her chief financial officer, Wendell Wardell.

In fact, the report card praises Coeur d'Alene School District leadership, including previous school board members, going back to 2007.

The Press last week formally requested the public records the district received from Moody's Investors Service for the district's sale of general obligation bonds. Those bonds will be sold to pay for the capital improvements approved by voters in August.

Hazel, Wendell and those responsible for the district's finances the past five years earned the second highest possible rating from Moody's: an underlying rating of Aa2. Only one district in the state, Boise School District, has earned a higher rating (Aa1), and only Meridian matches Coeur d'Alene. Everybody else is rated lower - some districts significantly lower.

Several factors go into determining these ratings, including some things beyond a school district's control, like market value. But according to the district's underwriter, Coeur d'Alene shines best where it has the most control: Over its own finances.

The Moody's report says this:

Under the district's current leadership, the district's finances have improved rapidly over the last 5 years, generating consistent operating surpluses and growing fund balances.

... Despite flat enrollment and cuts from the state in fiscal 2010 and 2011, the district was able to remain structurally balanced through cuts in expenditures. Between 2009 and 2011, the district made $8.8 million in budget cuts by deferring purchases, making changes to employee family health insurance coverage, and attrition in both certified and classified staff. The district expects to make an additional $3.0 million in cuts over the next two fiscal years, including additional cuts to certified staff, the curriculum, and transportation.

Praise like this went beyond district officials. You, district patrons and taxpayers, also got some of Moody's love. According to the report:

The district also benefits from supportive local voters, which in 2011 approved two, two-year supplemental maintenance and operations (M&O) levies for a combined $12.8 million annually for fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013, which officials hope to renew for fiscals 2014 and 2015.

So when the next M&O levy requests come around, keep in mind that Moody's gave the district's leaders an A in Fiscal Responsibility. That's a grade you can literally take to the bank.

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