The Blaine County School District’s board of trustees approved its budget for the 2019-20 school year by a 4-1 vote Tuesday, capping a six-month process to draft the $63.3 million general fund spending plan.
That’s a $5.5 million jump over the $57.8 million budgeted for 2018-19, though that doesn’t mean the extra money will be spent, according to district Finance Manager Bryan Fletcher. Instead, he transferred $5 million in “idle funds” accrued as carryover into the general fund, with the idea that the trustees could use that money to bolster the district’s Financial Emergency Fund, in accordance with the board’s stated goal of keeping two to three months worth of operating costs—between $9 million and $12 million—locked away in a restricted reserve. Currently, the district has about $3.5 million in that fund.
“The Board of Trustees may determine how much if any of the $5.0 million that they would like to transfer,” Fletcher wrote in the district’s draft budget book. “They are under no obligation to do so and may transfer all, a partial sum, or none at all. This sum being an ‘on-budget’ item does not force or compel the Board to take any action on this topic at all, but provides them with the opportunity to do so if they believe the option is in the District’s best interest.”
Some of that carryover will likely be replenished soon, too. As of June 11, actual district spending was about $4.57 million under budget, and revenues were roughly $1.27 million higher than expected, according to financial records presented to the trustees.
The 2019-20 general fund is also buoyed by $2.99 million from a supplemental levy that voters agreed to carve out of the existing plant facilities levy last year. (The supplemental levy is slated to expire after 2019-20.) Fletcher also anticipates a one-time payment of about $441,000 from the state compensating the district for past underfunding of teacher salaries on the so-called career ladder.
A chunk of that fresh revenue will boost staff salaries and benefits. Earlier this month, the district and the Blaine County Education Association, which serves as its teachers union, agreed to a contract allocating an additional $990,000 for salary raises—a 2.36 percent increase extended to all categories of employees, including administrators with room to move on their salary schedule. That money would bolster the existing rungs of the salary schedule, based on education and experience. The district expects to pay an estimated $825,000 to augment the salaries of staff progressing through that schedule next year, according to Fletcher’s estimates.
For 2019-20, the district also agreed to cover a 6.5 percent increase to health insurance premiums and the state-mandated 1 percent contribution increase to its public employee retirement fund, called PERSI, together worth about $401,000.
Trustee Kevin Garrison was the sole trustee to oppose the budget. His objection focused on restructuring of district office staff to combine the director of curriculum and instruction and director of student services into a new single role, executive director of teaching and learning, at a higher salary than either previous position. The board approved the change—and salary adjustment—during its January meeting.
Acting as board chairman, Trustee Rob Clayton killed a proposed amendment by Garrison to spike the position, citing inadequate public notice for the discussion. Clayton said the topic could be revisited at a later meeting.
“I understand I may be getting down too deep, but at the same time we have a fiduciary responsibility to the district,” Garrison said. “When a salary is not commensurate with the responsibilities, I have to go there.”