Wednesday, January 21, 2009

School district set to absorb state funding cuts

Blaine County schools are less reliant on state funding

Express Staff Writer

Students in Sandy Scott’s fifth-grade class at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum, along with other students in the Blaine County School District, won’t likely be affected by proposed funding cuts next year for education in Idaho. Photo by Willy Cook

The Blaine County School District will fare better than most districts in Idaho next year if proposed state funding cuts for public education become a reality.

Because of tough economic times in Idaho and the nation, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has proposed funding cuts for next fiscal year for many state agencies, and public education has not been spared. Otter has recommended for fiscal year 2010 that public education take a funding cut of close to 5 percent.

While some belt tightening may be required for Blaine County schools, the district is better prepared to face funding cuts because it is less reliant on state funding than most school districts in Idaho.

For this fiscal year, the district expects to receive $16.5 million in state funding, which represents about 30 percent of the district's general budget.

A typical school district in Idaho is about 95 percent state funded.

"Absolutely, we're better off just because of the cushion we've built up with the supplemental levy," said Mike Chatterton, Blaine County School District treasurer. "We're going to lose some money, but the average person will not see any kind of impact at all."

The State Department of Education has suggested how cuts might take place in Idaho's school districts. They include building maintenance money, teacher reimbursement funds for classroom supplies, funding for early retirements, money for reading and math student remediation programs and funds for new textbooks.

Chatterton said the education department is also looking at changing kindergarten schedules to save on transportation costs. Children now attend kindergarten one-half day, five days a week. The education department is suggesting that they attend school three full days a week instead.

"Everything's preliminary," Chatterton said, "but these are the things they've identified to be looking at."

Ultimately, if funding cuts continue, the lost funds will affect staffing, which means fewer teachers per student.

Chatterton said the school district will likely have funding to replace a loss in state funds, but most school districts won't.

"The district is not worried about what effect it will have on Blaine County," Chatterton said. "The district is worried about what effect it will have on education in the state of Idaho."

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