Friday, June 12, 2009

School board approves $74 million budget

Only 1 district patron questions budget at public hearing

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County school board approved on Tuesday a $74 million budget for the 2009-2010 school year. Seated at the table, from left, are Assistant Superintendent Lonnie Barber, Trustee Mari Beth Matthews, board Vice Chairwoman Julie Dahlgren, board Chairwoman Alexandra Sundali, Trustee Kim Nilsen, Trustee Daniel Parke and Superintendent Jim Lewis. Photo by Willy Cook

The Blaine County School District board of trustees approved on Tuesday a $74 million budget for the 2009-2010 school year.

The budget, which goes into effect on July 1, allocates $57.5 million to the district's general fund, which is money directly used for educating students, often referred to as "classroom" expenses. The balance of the budget is for construction, bond and interest payments, and for miscellaneous federal and state supplemental programs.

The school board's 5-0 vote approving the budget followed a public hearing that was quiet in comparison to a budget workshop held by the district on June 2. At the workshop, about a dozen district patrons fired numerous questions and veiled comments at the school board and district administrators.

Instead, only one district patron offered formal comment.

"I'm a little shocked at the size of the school budget, what it's becoming," said Tom Richmond, a construction contractor who lives north of Hailey. "The thing that concerns me is why it is costing us so much to educate kids in Blaine County while 60 miles south in Jerome or Twin Falls it's so much less."

Richmond's comments led to a spirited exchange with Trustee Kim Nilsen, who is also a construction contractor.

"Would you build me a house for the same money you did in 1960?" Nilsen asked Richmond. "My point is, it costs more to live here. Everything we do here costs more money."

"Maybe we should load them on a bus and drive them to the Magic Valley," said Richmond.

"You know what, if that's what the public wants, then that's what we'll do," said Nilsen.

Richmond suggested that the school district could save money if it contracted out for transportation, facility maintenance or other services.

Richmond also suggested that the teacher-to-student ratio in the district is unnecessarily low.

"I don't think you have to have that low a class size in secondary education," said Richmond, who added that college class sizes are typically much larger and high school students should learn to get used to that.

Nilsen said the class size in the district's high schools is currently 20-25 students.

"The community would not stand for 30 to 35 students in a class," Nilsen said. "Our public demands small class size."

"I just think there's a lot of slack in this budget," Richmond said.

No one else stepped forward to comment, so board Chairwoman Alex Sundali closed the hearing and the budget was approved.

Terry Smith:

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