SGHS school board approves '17-18 budget

The Sweet Grass County High School board met on Aug. 9 to adopt final budgets for the 2017-18 school year. 

What resulted was a 1.76 mill increase on the budget, coming out to about a $2.10 tax increase for a household worth $100,000 (or $4.20 on a $200,000 assessment). 

SGHS superintendent Alvin Buerkle said this increase is a worst case scenario, although a tax increase is expected in order to fund the 2017-18 budget. 

Often, Buerkle said he budgets for a worst case scenario to be on the cautionary side of things. The largest factor in the increase of mills this year was in the general fund, now sitting at 47.52 mills, an increase of 7.16 mills. 

The reason, explained by Buerkle to the school board Wednesday, was because of changes in state funding. Because of a retraction of funds in the overall general fund sent out to schools across Montana, the money had to be made up elsewhere. Buerkle said when that happens, it falls on the  local taxpayers. 

“They changed the funding structure with what the state supports funding with, and basically said, ‘You’ve got to replace that with local funds,’” Buerkle said. “So without a vote, a recommendation from us, this is purely a legislative action that makes our general fund mills go up by seven points.”

Despite the general fund increase, Buerkle was able to balance out the budget and only increase this year’s budget by 1.76 mills. The 2017-18 budget, as voted on and approved by the board on Aug. 9, sits at 78.17 mills, up from the 76.41 mills for the 2016-17 school year, but still down from 83.68 in 2013-14. 

The board had the option to approve a higher budget with a pervasive levy or “non-voted” levy, which would’ve increased the budget to 2.16 mills and would not have been up for a vote, but the board decided not to go that route. 

While the non-voted levy would’ve provided costs for projects, such as paying for new bleachers in the gymnasium, the board decided it wouldn’t be worth forcing taxpayers out of more money, when it wasn’t completely necessary and could continue to be paid for out of the building reserve fund.

“You can do it, legally, but how are the taxpayers going to feel?” said Jerry Hansen, a local resident who was at the board meeting. “One of these days you’re going to have to go for a general fund levy  and if you nickel and dime us taxpayers for $7,000, you’re going to hurt yourself in the long run.”

The $7,000 Hansen referred to was the approximate cost of the new bleachers in the gym, which the non-voted levy would have covered. 

REDUCED ADVISORY TIME

The board also approved that advisory periods will no longer happen every week. Principal Matt Kleinsasser said he’d be meeting with teachers on Aug. 21 to decide which day would be best to hold a once-a-month advisory period. 

School board members felt the advisory time was being wasted and would be more productive if it was reduced to just once a month. Advisory has been, in the past, a time when students can gather for group meetings, used as a study hall, but also was felt like it promotes procrastination and isn’t planned out to be constructive. 

BUS ROUTE REDUCTION

The bus routes will be down to just five this school year. That’s down from six the year before. 

SGHS currently owns nine yellow buses and two trip buses (used for activities only), but soon the school will be down to owning just eight yellows. 

With a reduction in routes, there isn’t a need for four “backup buses,” Buerkle said. The school may have an opportunity to buy a third trip bus, which will be discussed at the September meeting. 

With one less route, there will be a five-minute adjustment to some routes.

By STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Pioneer Staff Writer

 

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