By Tim Leeds
Kirk Miller said that with declining enrollment and lost property tax valuation, setting the budget for the school district was difficult, but they made it work for this year.
"It's not doom and gloom," he said in a finance meeting before the Havre school board meeting last night, "the sky isn't falling."
Miller said that things could get more difficult if additional revenue is lost. He said there isn't much room left for freeing up funds after this year's budget. The district reduced their reserve from 10 percent to eight percent, freeing up funds for operations, but Miller said it can't be reduced farther.
He said if it were further reduced, the district could be unable to make payments if other budgeted funds aren't available, which is the purpose of the reserve.
Miller presented the board with the report on fall enrollment in the Havre Public Schools. The fall count, taken on Oct. 2, shows a total loss of 66 students in the district, with a potential loss of funding of more than $112,000 for the grade schools and middle school, and a potential loss of more than $131,000 for the high school.
The average number of students (ANB) is used to determine state funding for the general fund and other programs including special education, Indian Education funding, Title programs and school food service. The fall numbers will be averaged with a second count, to be taken on Feb. 5, 2001, to determine funding for the 2001-2002 school year.
Miller said the drop in enrollment is mainly a result of fewer students entering the system. There were 57 fewer students entering the system's kindergartens this year than the number of high school graduates leaving the system. Miller said this trend will probably continue unless there is a major change in the area's economy, what's going on in the area, to bring more people into the community.
Miller said the estimates they are presenting to the school board assumes there will be no major drop in enrollment between the October count and the February count. He said there has not been a major drop in the counts for the last few years, but historically there often has been. He said quite a few students usually leave between the counts, but in the last few years enough new students have come in to make up the difference.
Miller said that although it is contrary to common sense and probably difficult to explain, property taxes levied for the school budget have actually been reduced, even though more mills were levied.
This is because of the average loss of property tax value in the area, he said about 10 percent, due to recent legislative action. Each mill levied brings in about $2,000 less in taxes in the Havre district.
The effect of the drop in valuation is that although the district increased the number of mills levied by about 7.8 percent, the amount collected was reduced by more than $102,000.
Miller said that requests for increased funding by the legislature are being made by several state educational bodies. He said the groups are trying to present a united front to the state government on the issues.
The school board's agenda Tuesday included copies of the Montana School Board Association resolutions to be voted on in the body's MCEL conference in Billings Oct. 18-20, resolutions adopted by the School Administrators of Montana and the Board of Education's recommendations to the Governor's Office of Budget and Program Planning.
All three documents include similar resolutions and recommendations requesting revisions and increases in funding for Montana schools.
Miller said the funding difficulties are nothing new and they have faced them for the last several years.
He said that the district is now operating with the bare minimum to meet the needs, however, and if additional funding is reduces, the only alternatives would be to significantly increase property taxes or to eliminate programs.