Budget higher, but costs lower:Taxpayers to pay less for balancing school district’s $53M plan

2012-08-27T00:00:00Z Budget higher, but costs lower:Taxpayers to pay less for balancing school district’s $53M planBy Piper Haugan of The Montana Standard Montana Standard
August 27, 2012 12:00 am  • 

When it comes to Butte School District’s 2012-13 budget, two things stand out: Taxpayers will pay a little less than anticipated toward balancing the district’s $53 million budget this year, and personnel costs are up 3 percent at both high school and elementary levels, eating into fixed costs like maintenance.

This year’s budget is a little more than $2 million larger than last year’s, which was around $51 million.

Because of a slightly bigger tax base this year, the district is raising a smaller mill levy than anticipated earlier in the year, meaning each individual taxpayer will be paying just a ittle less than expected.

The district’s business director J.R. Richardson said the total property taxes the district will receive this year is down half a mill, from about 213 to about 212.5. That savings may not seem like much — it’s a property tax decrease of about $1.10 for the owner of a $150,000 home — but Richardson said a combination of fiscal conservatism on the district’s behalf and an increase in taxable value made it possible.

“We couldn’t do it if we were wasting money,” Richardson told trustees at a recent meeting.

It’s not the first time the district has reduced the number of mills it levies. For the ninth year in a row, the district will not levy the full amount of mills for which it’s authorized. Over the years, Richardson said the district has reduced the number of mills raised from 264 to 212, a net reduction of 25 percent of the taxes it could take.

In May, voters approved a 3.65-mill increase for the high school, which would’ve added $5.50 to the average $100,000 property. However, Richardson said, it turned out the district will only levy a 1.67-mill increase to flesh out the budget.

CLIMBING COSTS

Paychecks for teachers and other personnel always make up the brunt of the general funds at both the elementary and high school. But this year, personnel expenses increased by 3 percent in both districts, taking money away for utilities, instructional supplies, maintenance and other necessities.

Eighty-eight percent of the district’s elementary 2012-2013 general fund is dedicated to personnel costs, versus 85 percent last year. At the high school, 83 percent of the general fund goes to personnel, up from 80 percent last year.

Altogether, about 391 positions out of 523 are paid through the district’s general fund. Richardson said the increases come from the 1.55 percent negotiated raise for most district employees. Also, more employees are being paid out of the general fund this year than in years’ past, Richardson said.

Money is being cut out of other areas, including instructional supplies, maintenance, and utilities. For example, substitute budgets were cut by $50,000 to make up for the shift, and the utilities budget was cut by more than $250,000. It’s the first time the utilities budget has been lowered at the high school, though it’s been happening at the elementary, Richardson said.

FIXED COSTS

Richardson said he isn’t sure how much further the district could reduce spending on utilities and other fixed costs.

“I seriously doubt we can do that next year,” he said.

Richardson noted personnel savings from the intra-district movement as various administrative positions were filled following the departure of former Superintendent Linda Reksten. But this year, the general funds are being used to pay a greater number of staff, some of whom used to be paid out of other pots, like special education.

Reporter Piper Haugan may be reached at 496-5572 or piper.haugan@mtstandard.com

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