Wednesday, June 15, 2005

School District budget rewards teachers

$62.8 million funding plan up 13 percent over last year


By MEGAN THOMAS
Express Staff Writer

Driven by growth, a proposed 2005-2006 Blaine County School District budget contains funding to increase teachers' salaries, to provide for construction costs and to establish new funds.

The district unveiled an approximately $62,824,000 budget to its governing board on Tuesday, June 14. The proposed budget is about 13 percent higher than last year's $55 million budget.

The board was scheduled to meet Tuesday night to take public comment and to consider approving the proposed budget.

The proposed General Maintenance and Operating Fund for the coming school year comes to just over $41,784,000, accounting for the majority of the operating budget. The money would come from two basic sources: state income and sales tax revenues and local property taxes.

The majority of the general fund budget pays for teachers' salaries and benefits.

During spring negotiations with teachers, the district made three major changes to the structure of the teacher pay scale. Negotiations settled on a two-year contract that provides a 4 percent pay increase to all district teachers. Mike Chatterton, district treasurer, said most other Idaho districts offered a 1 percent increase.

"Most other districts don't have the money to give. We are fortunate that we can," he said.

Another major change eliminated restrictions on years of teaching experience. Previously, Blaine County teachers who brought teaching experience from outside of Blaine County did not qualify on the same salary schedule level as teachers who had taught the same number of years within the Blaine County School District.

The district abolished the restrictions in order to retain its teachers and to bolster recruitment.

"In the future it will have a big impact on who we can attract," Chatterton said.

The third change awarded teachers with 18 years of experience or more with a 1 percent increase for the next two years on top of the 4 percent increase offered to all teachers.

"We are trying to bring experienced staff who can afford to live here," Chatterton said.

Staff expenditures also include a 9 percent rise in health insurance costs, which is a small increase compared to the average 14 to 18 percent increase.

The general budget would also fund eight new positions, including one first-grade teacher, one fourth-grade dual immersion teacher, one social studies teacher, one math teacher, one custodian, one guidance secretary, one part-time medical technology academy teacher, and one half-time elementary principal for Woodside Elementary School. The principal position for Woodside Elementary begins in January to facilitate the opening of the school.

Of the new positions, Wood River High School requires four additional staff members. The increase in incoming students drove the expansion of the high school staff.

"We graduated the last small class this year," Chatterton said.

Chatterton noted the district expects 225 freshmen to enter the high school this fall, compared to 148 graduates in 2005.

Chatterton said the district requires additional teachers to maintain small class sizes of 20 students or less.

After four years, the district also plans to increase the expenditures per student by $10. Previously, the district spent $165 per student, and this year the district wants to allocate $175 per student. The increase amounts to $30,000 across the district.

The adoption of a new districtwide math program accounts for another budgetary increase. The district must account for approximately 3,400 textbooks estimated to cost $80 per book.

Chatterton said the budget also accommodated the increased projected costs for construction of Woodside Elementary, a new school slated to open in 2006. The projected costs rose $800,000 due to a longer than expected approval process.

The district also established new funds, including a fund for a National Home Builders Grant obtained for the Construction Academy.

The district also established the Workforce Housing Fund and the James Woodyard Fund.

Despite the increased expenditures, the district should remain on solid financial ground by capitalizing on its levy.

Chatterton said the district has the ability to levy $28,652,000. The district's actual levy is $24,940,000.

"With the increased market value, the amount of money the district didn't levy is rather substantial," Chatterton said.

Chatterton explained that the difference between the possible and actual levy amount places the district in a positive position for future staffing needs. He said that staffing needs for 2006-2007 include positions at Woodside Elementary School and possibly staffing of a new preschool program.

"We have always had more money left over that we have levied. This year that amount is much more than usual," Chatterton said.




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