The Blaine County School District unveiled its first draft of a 2019-20 budget to the school board last week, showcasing a $63.4 million general fund spending plan—and a healthy cash reserve—in advance of a formal June 11 hearing on the subject.

The preliminary general fund proposal jumps $5.6 million from the $57.8 budgeted in 2018-19, though that doesn’t mean the district will be making or spending $5.6 million more, according to District Finance Manager Bryan Fletcher. Rather, the bulk of the boost comes from an additional $5 million in beginning balances brought into the general fund—the result, Fletcher says, of tidy spending practices that have led to increased carryover from the past two years.

That money won’t necessarily be spent. In Fletcher’s draft, the $5 million is immediately transferred to a financial emergency fund to further 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. The district currently has about $3.5 million in that fund. The prospective transfer—like every line item in the budget—is subject to board approval.

The carryover represents the sum of the budget surpluses accumulated in previous years. Until recently, it’s been used to patch shortfalls in the district’s budget; but, in the past two years, the district has come out ahead—and banked the leftovers. That number stood at $7.7 million at the end of fiscal 2018, Fletcher said.

He expects that trend to continue for the time being.

“I believe we’ll have a healthy carryover this year, and a reasonable carryover next year,” he told the board.

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 worth 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 likely 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 tentative contract allocating an additional $990,000 for salary raises—a 2.36 percent increase spread across the district’s 500-plus employees. That money would bolster the existing rungs of the salary schedule, based on education and experience. The district also expects to pay an estimated $825,000 to 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.

Teachers are scheduled to vote on the deal Thursday, May 23, according to BCEA Co-President Maritt Wolfrom. Afterward, the trustees will vote on the contract.

The school board’s annual budget hearing will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11.

“This is our third year of proposing a balanced budget—we’re starting to create a habit, which is a very good thing,” Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said. “It’s a nice, balanced, not-too-consequential year.”

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