School District eyes $1M cut
January 16, 2013
Levy discussion planned for Monday
With unknown cuts coming out of state discussions this legislative session coupled with ongoing local needs, the Teton County School Board wrestled with the real idea that they may be facing a $1 million cut to next year’s budget, an idea that could have sweeping effects in staff and program funding.
“The state continues to cut (funding) and put the responsibility on the local level,” said Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme at Monday’s school board meeting. “This is not sustainable,” he added.
As the state legislature wrestles with potential impacts to the repealed Students Come First legislation passed in 2012 and also eyes cutting the private property tax that could potentially remove $90,000 from next year’s school budget, board members took stock and turned the discussion toward the upcoming levy election.
“It’s not a matter of if, but how much,” said School Board Chair Doug Petersen of the upcoming school levy election slated for March.
The school board scheduled a special meeting for this Monday, Jan. 21 to discuss the amount of the school levy, a voter approved tax initiative that has passed the last three times; the last time in 2011 for $2.6 million that went toward staffing, building and technology needs.
The board debated the amount of the levy at last Monday’s regular meeting with Petersen holding firm on another $2.6 million levy that could be put on the March ballot. If the ballot passed Teton County voters, it would be in place for two years.
School Board member Nola Bredal encouraged discussion around the idea of increasing the levy this year based on the idea that Woolstenhulme said should a $2.6 million levy passed the voters, a $1 million cut was eminent.
“The only way to make the budget work is through cuts regardless of the levy,” Woolstenhulme said of a potential $2.6 million levy. “It would be an impact felt by all staff.
“Are we willing to cut $1 million out of the budget,” asked Bredal.
Woolstenhulme said he liked the idea of raising the levy amount.
But Petersen asked whether the district could cut “fluff,” citing Expedition Yellowstone trips that the fifth grade classes currently take in the spring and fall and if winter sports could also be on the table for cuts.
“I think we should tow the line at $2.6 million,” Petersen said. “I think we could operate on a $2.6 million (levy).”
During the last few years, the Teton County School District has weathered state cuts including a shift in the tax base in 2006 that took the district off the property tax roles, relying on state funding from sales tax. The district has maintained its operational budget of a little less than $15 million due largely to the local vote in favor of the tax levy.
The board voted in favor of meeting again, asking for specific financial information and a better understanding of what a $1 million cut could look like for the public school district.
“We need to envision what a 10 percent cut looks like,” said Bredal. “We need to evaluate programs. What are we cutting? It’s difficult to sit here not knowing what we could be cutting. I think we owe it to the public to look at everything.”
The 2011 supplemental levy cost about $143 per $100,000 assessed value for property owners per year over the course of two years. The plant facilities levy that also passed in 2011 and is in place for the next three years, cost $22 per year on every $100,000 assessed property value.
The board will meet at the district office in Driggs on Main Street at 6 p.m. on Monday.