By Tim Leeds
Havre Public Schools Board Chairman Jim Heberly said the district budget approved by the board last week didn't have any cuts, despite the reduction in state school funding approved during the legislative special session.
"We kind of prepared for these cuts coming on when we put these budgets together, so there weren't really any surprises," Heberly said today.
The board had to continue the meeting originally set to approve the budget, on Aug. 13, until Thursday to determine the effect legislative cuts would have.
After the special session, held to find ways to make up for a $56 million budget deficit in the state, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch reported that funding for K-12 public education was cut by about $6 million.
Ric Floren, clerk of the Havre school district, said the legislative cuts eliminated about $60,000 the district could have received.
No additional taxes were needed, however, because the district in May asked voters to approve a mill levy that anticipated a worst-case scenario.
The board generally asks voters to approve more than the board may need. In years where more state funding is available than anticipated, Floren said, the district actually collects less in taxes than voters have authorized.
Because of the elimination of other levys, specifically the debt service on bonds sold to build Havre Middle School and a levy for the high school building reserve fund, the district is actually assessing about 1.3 fewer mills this year than last, Floren said.
The district's budgets are up slightly this year. The high school budget is up about $75,000 to about $3.9 million, and the elementary budget is up about $70,000 to about $6.1 million.
The increases were larger than they were in the previous two years, Floren said. Most of the increase is due to higher wages, utilities and other expenses, he said.
Long-range planning has helped to make up for the loss in state funding, Heberly said.
"That helps us budget not just this year but next year," he said.
The restructuring of the district two years ago has helped the Havre schools keep the tax bills down, Floren said.
The board approved restructuring the district in 2001 to make up for losses in budgets due to declining enrollment and other factors.
Havre High School is seeing a slight enrollment increase this year, with about 200 entering freshmen making up for about 160 seniors graduating.
The district will probably see slight reductions in total enrollment for a few years, Floren said. He said the enrollment will probably stabilize at a lower level then.
A main portion of state funding for public education is computed based on the average full-time attendance at school districts in the state.
If budget reductions continue, Floren said, the district may not be able to keep its tax bill as stable as it did this year.
"This just happened to be a very good year for us. In fact, it will be difficult to hold the line," he said.