Friday, June 15, 2012

District passes $75M budget

Schools superintendent forgoes pay raise

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County School District trustees on Tuesday approved a 2012-13 budget of about $75 million—less than the district's 2011-12 budget of $76.2 million.

Opening and closing public comment sessions gave voice to perceived administrative leadership problems and included arguments that district administrators should forgo raises until the district settles several issues including a court case involving construction contractor McKinstry Essention.

The $55.4 million general fund—80 percent of which goes to salaries—is down about $300,000 from the 2011-12 budget, which goes through July. Costs of benefits for newly hired teachers and retirement packages for departing ones is $1.2 million higher than they were for the 2011-12 school year.

"There's not a lot of wiggle room," said district Director of Communications Heather Crocker.

Funding of $19.4 million for other funds that pay for building maintenance and improvements, Community Campus costs, support for disadvantaged students and food services looks much the same as it has in recent years despite an almost $300,000 drop in state revenues.

"We expect it, but maintain about the same [budget]," Crocker said.

The district will continue to support new math and science curricula, International Baccalaureate training, The Leader in Me training at three elementary schools, bullying prevention training, Project Based Learning in-service and training, new teacher mentoring and ongoing professional development for certified and noncertified staff.

Crocker said savings continue to accrue in conservation of energy, supplies and other areas.

The trustees also voted unanimously to approve staff raises. The noncertified staff will receive the same 1 percent raise as certified teaching staff and a one-time, 1 percent bonus in December.

However, School Superintendent Lonnie Barber said he would forgo any raise in light of public outcry over giving raises in a bad economy and the pending litigation with McKinstry. Barber, who has a contract with the school board that is separate from both the teachers union and support staff, could have taken a raise derived both from state and school funds.

"What you did is big and I applaud that," said Trustee Paul Bates.

However, the board did not bend to the most adamant public pressure to withhold raises from other administrative staff until the dispute with McKinstry is settled.

"According to the Blaine County assessor, my land value has dropped over 80 percent since 2008. My property taxes have barely budged, though, due to the 2006 stabilization cap for education," said Penfield Stroh, a Hailey resident. "This valley is still in an economic crisis to which the Blaine County School District leaders are seemingly immune. The valley's children need this money for their education, not for gold-plated educational facilities."

Other members of the public also said the district has focused too much on educational facilities and not enough on content, citing academic results that have not landed Blaine County on U.S. News and World Report's lists of best schools. Some argued that there is no reason with the financial support available for schools that such an achievement is not possible with better leadership.

"If Blaine County was a Top 100 school, we wouldn't have real estate problems," said Hailey resident Bob Corker.

Bates responded by saying, "It behooves this board to be listening tonight. We need to continue to improve. It is a variation of things we've heard before."

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