Friday, June 13, 2014

School board approves $80.6 million budget

Business manager estimates actual expenditures at $59.4 million

Express Staff Writer

    The Blaine County School District board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an $80.6 million budget for the 2014-2015 school year.
    Approval came during the board’s annual budget hearing, during which only one person commented and district Business Manager Mike Chatterton called the $80.6 million figure “misleading.” He explained that $21.2 million in the budget is contingency funding, unappropriated balances and other money that the district does not intend to spend in the coming year. Chatterton said planned expenditures for the 2014-2015 school year are allocated in the budget at about $59.4 million.
    The lone comment came from mid-valley resident Tom Richmond, who suggested that $16 million in “carryover surplus” be used for road and bridge repairs in Blaine County.
    “I was wondering if it would help our road and bridge budget out—that needs some money,” Richmond said. “I think it would save on our buses, front end alignments, on tires—students wouldn’t be shaken up as much. I just think it would be a worthwhile expenditure.”
    Chatterton said he assumed Richmond was referring to an “unappropriated balances” listing in the budget of about $16.2 million. He said that money is being saved from plant facilities levy funds to pay off bond obligations. The bonds were sold in 2010 and 2011 to fund energy-saving measures and improvements at eight district schools and facilities under the district’s contract with McKinstry Essention.
    “That money is set aside to pay off those bonds that are maturing, and we have to start paying those off in August of 2016,” Chatterton said, further explaining that payments will be about $5.5 million per year from 2016 to 2020.
    “I don’t think statute would even allow us to transfer money from one government agency to another government agency,” he said.
    The budget is divided into categories. One is the General M&O Fund for district operations and the other is referred to as All Other Funds, which includes funding for new equipment and construction, and state and federal money for programs such as reduced or free lunches and special education.
    Chatterton noted that salaries and benefits are the largest expenditure for the General M&0 Fund, accounting for 84 percent. He further pointed out that the General M&O Fund is “slightly less” than it was for the current school year.
    According to a district budget summary statement, the General M&O Fund for the 2013-2014 school year was $55,604,933, while for the 2014-2015 school year it is $55,602,713.
    Chatterton said the decrease was achieved by reallocation of resources.
    “I think we’ve done a good job of reallocating resources and reallocating positions, looking at cutting positions that were not necessary and reallocating into new positions that we thought really were necessary,” he said.
    Tuesday’s budget hearing was preceded by five public budget workshops that Chatterton held with board members starting in February. Board members noted that the workshops helped them have a good understanding of the budget prior to approval.
    “I agree that the five budget meetings have been much better for me to understand it,” said Trustee Kathryn Graves.
    “It was very well vetted in those five meetings that exceeded over 12 hours of discussion,” said board Vice Chair Kathy Baker.
    Enrollment at the end of the 2013-2014 school year was 3,385 students.

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