Ennis School Board looks to trim budget again this year

The Ennis School Board met Monday to learn more about the budgeting process and provide some input to superintendent John Overstreet as he continues work on the budget for the upcoming school year.

Monday’s meeting was characterized as a budget work session and Overstreet had several handouts about Montana school’s budgeting process, which is very complicated to understand.

Montana law dictates that school districts must approve a budget by Aug. 15. The Ennis School Board will hold their regular August meeting Monday, Aug. 13 to approve a final budget for this coming year. If the budget can’t be approved then, the board must revise the budget as necessary to get one approved by Aug. 15.

In Montana, school funding is highly regulated by state law. Each budget contains various funds, which are each regulated by a separate set of rules. The general fund is where most of the school functions are funded. This includes teacher salaries and classroom supplies, Overstreet said.

The state dictates to schools how big their general fund can be, he said. This is set primarily by enrollment figures, he said. School districts receive a certain amount of state funding for each student, this along with some other outside funding enters into an equation to give schools a range of what their general fund budget should be.

The state sets a maximum for each district’s general fund and the school board may pass a budget that falls between 80 percent and 100 percent of that maximum, Overstreet said.

The only way for the maximum allowed in the general fund to increase is by either enrollment going up or by the state legislature appropriating more money to the district.

Other funds within the district’s budget include funds supported by voter approved levies, like the technology and building reserve funds, and funds that are supported by non-voted levies, like the transportation and adult education funds, he said.

Overstreet is looking to make a few changes in organizing the budget. For instance, janitorial and utility costs for the district come out of the general, transportation and adult education funds equally. He’d like to change that to take more out of the general fund for both utility and janitorial costs.

The district also still has about $2.7 million in the adult education fund. Overstreet would like to move a chunk of that money into the flexibility fund where the school could better utilize it, but that would take approval from voters to move, he said.

“We have lots of money but it’s not in the right spots where we need to have it,” he told the board.

So, as he works with district clerk, Ginger Martello, on crafting a new budget, Overstreet looked for some guidance from the trustees.

The taxable value in the Ennis School District has increased again this year. Last year’s taxable value in the school district was about $62.2 million. This year it’s $65.2 million. This continues the sharp increase in taxable values in the district. For instance in 2005, the taxable valuations in the district were $24.5 million.

What this means is that as the taxable values have increased, so have the mill values. This year a mill in the Ennis School District is $65,201.

This is good for the school district, Overstreet said. But as he looks through the budget, he feels like the board can make several cuts to take even more pressure off of taxpayers.

Last year the school district used 50 mills to fund their budget. Overstreet looked for the board’s approval on cutting around 17 to 20 mills to bring the total tax burden down to about 30 mills.

And the cuts in the budget are in funds where the district has plenty of money, like transportation, bus depreciation, adult education, technology and tuition, he said.

The idea of cutting back the budget for the fourth year in a row made the school board members happy.

“(Taxpayers) are going to see a significant tax decrease this year, which will hopefully make them happy,” said board chair, Lisa Frye.

 

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