Kalispell Schools’ $67M budget brings taxpayer relief

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The sky above Flathead High School got some dramatic colors just before the sun began to peak over the mountains in Kalispell. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake file)

Kalispell Public Schools will operate on roughly $67.2 million budget this school year that includes some taxpayer relief.

State funding and taxpayer money are the primary sources of revenue for the budgeted funds.

Several factors impacted this year’s budget including $400,000 in district-wide cuts, additional operating and maintenance costs for the new Rankin Elementary, passage of an elementary district $1 million general fund levy in May, and increases in taxable value and a state subsidy.

The elementary district will operate on a $32.8 million budget for the 2018-19 school year. This is a $1.1 million increase from the 2017-18 school year. The high school district’s budget is $34.4 million. This is a $676,349 increase from the last school year.

“The budget increased, but so did salaries and the cost of everything else,” explained Gwyn Andersen, business clerk at Kalispell Public Schools. “Our reductions allowed us to continue to do business as we do business without any changes in curriculum.”

Taxpayer relief comes from a 2 percent increase in taxable value and an increase in Guaranteed Tax Base Aid, a state subsidy meant to equalize school funding.

The Guaranteed Tax Base Aid increase followed state school funding cuts made in the last legislative session. Those cuts totaled $687,294 in Kalispell Public Schools’ general fund and various block grants.

Andersen summarized how Guaranteed Tax Base Aid works.

“They [the state] compare the statewide taxable value per student to the district’s taxable value per student. If you’re below the statewide average they increase your state funding. So theoretically, everyone will be at the statewide average,” Andersen said. “So, in Kalispell, that has really helped our budget situation from a local tax standpoint.”

Andersen said the Guaranteed Tax Base Aid increase will continue over the next two years.

“The goal by the end of year three was that schools would be made whole from those cuts,” Andersen said.

She countered the statement by adding, “When the state increases their share it’s with the idea that they will reduce local taxes. At the end of the day we’re all the same taxpayers. We pay the state taxes and we pay the local taxes.”

The combination of the taxable value and Guaranteed Tax Base Aid increases means the district will levy less mills than originally anticipated during preliminary planning.

Across all elementary district funds, there was about half a mill increase according to Andersen. The elementary district could have raised 18 mills in the general fund alone, with the passage of the $1 million levy. The high school district saw a nearly a 10-mill decrease. For a taxpayer who owns a home with a property value of $100,000, one mill generates $1.35.

Following the passage of the levy, the elementary district is operating at 98 percent of its maximum allowable general fund budget and the high school at 92 percent.

A high school district general fund levy request is on the horizon and may come before voters in the spring. The high school district hasn’t passed a levy issue since 2007.

“Right now, the International Baccalaureate, AP [Advanced Placement] and Project Lead the Way programs are being funded with some one-time only money that will run out next year,” Andersen said in covering teacher training, testing and membership fees for the programs that offer rigorous, college-level classes in Flathead and Glacier high schools.

“The other thing we really haven’t addressed in our ongoing operation budget is changes in curriculum,” Andersen said.

“We haven’t done much in updating high school curriculum and those textbooks can be $300 to $400 apiece,” she said, noting the costs are similar whether the textbook is digital or a hard copy.

“Right now we need to do upgrades in math and science at the high school level and we don’t have the budget to do that,” Andersen said.

While some schools may build textbook purchases into the budget, Kalispell Public Schools has typically relied on using remaining end-of-year funds “in an attempt to be frugal and make money go as far as we can,” she said.

A highlight of this year’s budget is that Kalispell Public Schools’ self-funded insurance program was close to breaking even with costs and expenses. Last year, the school district floated a $785,000 loan to the program out of an interlocal fund with the intention that it will be repaid over time.

The interlocal fund currently contains about $3 million in elementary and high school district end-of-year funds. Money from this fund has been used to cover technology, curriculum and land purchases, but it is a finite source. Andersen said the district now is looking to earmark enough money to replace the artificial turf and infill that was installed at Legends Stadium in 2017, which is part of the high school district facilities. At the time the decision was made to replace the natural grass with artificial turf, the high school activity directors estimated the infill would need to be replenished every three to four years and the turf replaced about every 10 to 12 years.

In addition to the interlocal fund, the district has other non-budgeted or cash funds for things such as school food services, federal grants, extracurricular and traffic education.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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