By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
With little fanfare, the Havre School Board passed preliminary elementary and high school budgets Tuesday night.
The multimillion-dollar budgets, supported by all five board members present at Tuesday's regular meeting, retain about $85,000 in tentative elementary budget spending cuts proposed by the board at its annual budget workshop on May 20.
The cuts include a $54,000 project to replace the water system at Sunnyside Intermediate School, a $15,000 project to put a rubberized bladder on the roof of the west wing of Devlin School, and a $9,300 autoscrubber to clean tile and linoleum floors.
School district clerk Ric Floren has said those projects could still be done next year if the money is taken from the $200,000 building reserve fund.
Other cuts include $3,900 from the elementary curriculum budget that would have paid for a plotter to allow students to design their own posters, and a projector for a science classroom in the middle school.
About $2,000 was cut from the middle school instruction budget. The money had been used to pay for electives that will no longer be offered at Havre Middle School, including cooking, first aid, and a short-story writing class. The classes will be replaced by mandatory reading classes approved by the school board on May 13.
At the May budget session, the board made the cuts in response to a $283,000 elementary general fund budget reduction resulting from declining enrollment. The rest of the reduction will be covered with about $125,000 taken from a pool of rainy-day money the school district has saved over the last few years.
High school enrollment increased, meaning state funding to the school will increase.
The new elementary general fund budget is $5.84 million, compared to $6.12 million last year. The new high school general fund budget is $3.97 million, compared to $3.89 million last year.
The board voted on both budgets separately. Board members Joe Marino, Aileen Couch and Jim Heberly were absent for the vote.
The final budget will be approved at the school board meeting on Aug. 12.
In August the board will also approve final budgets for transportation, technology and the building reserve.
The board took action on several other items Tuesday night.
The board approved a new year-long remedial survey of English course at Havre High School for the 2003-2004 school year, intended for students entering the high school who are not ready for the basic freshman English class.
Enrollment will be determined by special education and English teachers from Havre Middle School, according to the class description.
Before the vote, HHS Principal Jim Donovan told the board that the class would be similar to a math class introduced this year to prepare students not yet ready for pre-algebra and algebra classes.
"I hope that it works as well as it did in math," Donovan said. "I believe it will."
"I'm excited that we can offer it to kids," board member Kathie Newell said before the vote.
All five board members present voted to support the class.
The board approved hiring the accounting firm Galusha, Higgins & Galusha to perform the annual audit of Havre Public Schools for the next three years. The firm has a branch in Havre.
Three firms were solicited for proposals, and two submitted proposals. The proposal from Galusha, Higgins & Galusha of $23,650 was $550 more than the proposal from Denning, Downey & Associates, which has performed the audit for the past three years.
Floren recommended Galusha, Higgins & Galusha be hired despite its shigher bid.
"Even though it is slightly higher, it is a local firm that generates taxes, revenue and employment here in our own city and county," Floren said. He added that the school district was"extremely pleased" with the service provided by Denning, Downey & Associates.
"This is in no way any kind of negative reflection" on the previous audit, Floren said. He said the school district is not required to take the lower proposal, and is not even required to solicit proposals for the audit.
The annual audit is required by law, Floren said.
The school board approved the purchase of a 1998 coach bus for next year, to be used for high school and middle school athletics and other activities.
The bus, one of three coach buses in the district fleet, will replace a 1973 coach bus, said Ginger Zanto, director of transportation for the school district. This morning Zanto said the engine on the old bus was wearing out, and that it is difficult to find parts for it.
The bus will cost about $151,000, which includes repairs that were negotiated into the cost. Repairs include a leaking rear main oil seal and some body repairs, said Zanto, who was one of the members of a five-person team that has been shopping for a new bus since January.
The bus has about 421,000 miles on it, which is low for a bus of its age, Zanto said. She said a new coach bus would cost between $325,000 and $400,000.
"We have done our homework," Zanto told the board. "So we know we're getting a pretty good deal for what we're asking you to purchase," she said. The bus will be purchased from the California branch of MCI Sales and Service, an Illinois-based bus manufacturer.
Zanto said this morning a yellow school bus would have been cheaper, but that they also don't last as long as coach buses. She also said the coach buses are safer because baggage and equipment can be stored underneath the bus rather than with the students.