New GASB User Guide Helps Taxpayers Understand School District Finances

By AccountingWEB Staff
How can taxpayers follow how their money is being spent on public education? What is the difference between a school district's budget and its financial statements? How can you determine if your school district's financial health is improving or declining? What assets does your school district own, and how much does it owe? 
Taxpayers can learn the answers to these questions ‒ and many others ‒ in a new, easy-to-understand guide to school district financial statements just published by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). The guide is the second in an expanded, fully revised and updated series published this year by the GASB, the independent, not-for-profit organization that sets accounting standards for the almost 90,000 local and state governments in the United States, including the more than 13,000 independent public school districts. 
"The quality of schools is a key factor for people deciding where to live or start a business, and school district financial reports are full of useful information in that regard. But the average person is unfamiliar with those reports and, in fact, may not even know they exist," said GASB Research Manager Dean Mead. "The value of this new guide is that it shows how anyone can find that information and then it explains what the information means."
Talking Points
This guide will help people navigate through school district financial reports to:
  • Find property tax rates and those of neighboring governments in the statistical section, which is useful for comparing tax burdens with other districts.
  • Compare how much it costs districts to provide education services by looking at expenses in their statement of activities.
  • Learn if a district is balancing its budget by reviewing the budgetary comparison schedule, and if it is on a financially healthy path based on whether its net position is growing or shrinking over time.
  • Estimate the average age of a district's school buildings by comparing historical costs with accumulated depreciation, which can be found in the notes to the financial statements.
     GASB Research Manager Dean Mead
What You Should Know about Your School District's Finances: A Guide to Financial Statements, 2nd edition, offers parents, teachers, school board members, educational advocacy groups, and other people who need financial information about public education, a comprehensive primer on the annual financial reports issued by school districts. The guide includes major new reporting requirements issued by the GASB since the publication of the original guide in 2000, in areas that include retiree health insurance and fund balance. 
The guide includes:
  • More than fifty annotated examples of school district financial statements, notes, and schedules.
  • A storyline designed to help the reader understand the concepts.
  • An introduction to basic financial ratios used to analyze school district finances.
  • Helpful boxes and sidebars that further explore issues raised in the text.
  • An overview of school district accounting and financial reporting.
  • An exhaustive glossary of terms.
"Like other governments, school districts take special care to demonstrate that they are accountable to the public for keeping track of what money is collected and how it is spent," said GASB Chairman Robert H. Attmore. "This guide helps taxpayers and parents understand what a financial report says. The guide shows how valuable school district financial information is when participating in a variety of important decisions, such as allocating budget resources among programs; choosing where to send a child to school, buy a house, or locate a business; voting in a school board election or on a district's annual budget; or buying a school district's bonds."
What You Should Know about Your School District's Finances: A Guide to Financial Statements can be purchased for $14.95, plus shipping, online or by calling the GASB Order Department at (800) 748-0659.  
Additional guides will be available in the coming months:
What You Should Know about the Finances of Your Business-Type Activities is a new guide devoted to the unique features of financial reporting by the activities that governments operate similar to businesses by charging fees in return for service, such as public utilities, airports, public hospitals, and public colleges and universities.
An Analyst's Guide to Government Financial Statements, 2nd edition, is the most comprehensive of the user guides and is written for experienced and frequent users of governmental financial statements. The guide covers the information in all of the major notes and supporting schedules in an annual financial report and explores basic analytical techniques for using that information to assess economic condition, financial position, liquidity, solvency, fiscal capacity, and risk exposure in a state or local government report.
In addition, the newly updated and revised edition of What You Should Know about Your Local Government's Finances is now available. 
Related article:
Source: May 16, 2012, GASB Press Release


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