Thanks to a 3 percent increase in the per-student funding from the state and the second year of federal stimulus money flowing into the school system, the Helena public school budget won’t see any cuts for the upcoming school year.
“It’s really pretty good news,” Superintendent Bruce Messinger said. “Services won’t look any different … We’ll have the same level of service from custodians to teachers.”
The good news continues. Helena School District taxpayers will see a slight decrease on their property taxes allocated for school funding because the total levies decreased. In the elementary district the amount is expected to decrease by close to $2 on a home with a taxable market value of $200,000, and $3.79 in the high school district for a house of the same value.
“We have businesses and new homes coming in at a greater rate than anything that would be devalued,” said Kim Harris, district business manager.
Of the $31 million elementary budget, $28.6 million is allocated to salaries. In the high school budget, $18.2 million of the $20.8 million budget pays for staff.
“As you know school districts are highly employee-service oriented,” Harris said during her budget presentation. “We are placing a great deal of emphasis on our staff. Our investment in staff has been significant and continues to be significant.”
The remaining monies pay for utilities, supplies, travel and professional development. Most line items saw slight increases, but no significant jumps were documented.
While school officials may be left with a comfortable feeling after this summer’s budget process, they get a little nervous about next year. Legislators reconvene in January to make decisions on school funding for the following two years and the federal stimulus money funding ends after this year.
The district has received about $3.6 million in stimulus money, which has paid for computers, textbooks and curriculum supplies, but also helped pay the salaries of 12 full-time-equivalent positions.
Some of the positions include a transitional teacher at Helena High School, literary and instructional coaches and additional math support throughout the district. All those employed with stimulus money understood the funding was temporary and a memorandum of employment was made. Some will go back to classrooms or retirement, Messinger said.
“It’s worth a two-year investment because of the lasting effect of professional development,” he said. “The hard question is would we take money from somewhere else (to pay for these positions). They are impacting, but it might be difficult to do.”
Harris told trustees that the only way, besides legislative action, to increase the general fund is to have greater enrollment since the state funds schools based on the number of students.
A handful of residents spoke about the budget and how that could be affected if parents become unhappy with district decisions (like the health curriculum) and pull their children out. They also spoke about having a transparent process that includes the public.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org