Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Schools budget exceeds $70 million

Increased spending plan approved by district board

Express Staff Writer

The opening of Woodside Elementary, a new Hailey-based elementary school, accounts for the major increases in the Blaine County School District 2006-2007 budget. With a vote last week to approve the $70.5 million budget for the next school year, the Blaine County School District board of trustees also approved a $1.15 million price tag to open the new school.

The opening of the Woodside Elementary school requires the hiring of a school principal, a secretary, three custodians, a social worker, an art teacher, a music teacher, a physical education teacher, a kindergarten teacher and a fifth-grade teacher.

"I think we are all very comfortable with what we are about to approve," said Alex Sundali, chair of the board.

During the annual budget hearing, the district's governing board voted unanimously to approve the $70,481,381 funding plan for the 2006-2007 year. Board member Julie Dahlgren made the motion to approve the new budget, which represents an increase over last year's $63 million budget. Board member Howard Royal did not attend the Tuesday, June 13, meeting.

The vote came quickly with no comment from the public. School District Treasurer Mike Chatterton said he had not received any comments from the community concerning the plan.

The General Maintenance and Operating Fund for the coming school year comes to just over $50,176,000, accounting for 80 percent of the district's operating budget. The general fund accounts for basic education costs like teacher salaries and supplies. The money comes from two basic sources: state income and sales tax revenues and local property taxes.

The amount of income received from the state is based on the property wealth of the school district. Based on the market value of the district, Blaine County schools will receive $8,597,266 from the state.

The general budget contains a nearly $5.9 million increase in local tax revenue that comes in light of the 2006 legislative session. The increase comes from a board decision to forego the levy transfer of the school plant facility fund and the bond interest fund to the general fund. The two funds were previously collected in other funds separate from the general budget. The monies will be collected in the general fund and then separated out to make payments.

The changes were made to better position the district against possible property tax reform. The shifting of funds, without a change in taxes, places the district's general fund closer to its possible levy limit. If the Legislature votes to freeze the general fund levy as proposed in 2006, the district would be in better strategic position to accommodate changes in educational funding.

The changes will have little impact on Blaine County property taxes. The school district levies will increase 7.3 percent overall, compared to an average increase of 7.75 percent over the last 12 years.

Other new expenses include a $250,000 cost to create a pilot preschool program next year.

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