GFPS looking at options to address projected budget shortfall
Great Falls Public Schools is beginning to develop the budget and facing a potential shortage of $941,054 to $1.465 million or more between the projected revenues and budget needs.
Superintendent Tammy Lacey walked through school funding formulas dictated by state and federal programs, as well as other funding sources and cuts during a budget town hall Tuesday evening.
Roughly a dozen people attended the meeting, most of whom were district employees, administrators or other school board members. Only a handful of members of the general public attended.
The Board Budget Committee, made up of Trustees Jeff Gray, Jan Cahill and Kim Skornogoski, will further discuss the budget during a March 21 meeting at 1 p.m. to make a recommendation to the full school board at their regular March 25 meeting.
If the school board chooses to pursue a levy on the May ballot, they’ll have to set the amount during the March 25 meeting.
Lacey said the school district is statutorily required to have a balanced budget and can’t use money from the $98.8 million facilities bond levy in 2016 for operational expenses.
Some state funding for school districts is tied to inflation and some is tied to enrollment.
In some cases, the legislature has changed the formula for the funding streams, reducing the money coming to GFPS. In other areas, the federal government has reduced funding while still mandating programs exist.
This year, the legislature has restored some funding streams and that revenue will help offset cuts on other areas, but won’t make up all the need, Lacey said.
One upside is that the legislature approved and Gov. Steve Bullock signed HB 159, which gives school districts more in the inflationary factor. For the upcoming year it’s 0.91 percent, which equates to $388,946 in revenue for GFPS, according to Lacey’s presentation.
The district receives $12.6 million in overbase property tax revenue, an amount that hasn’t changed since 2014 since changes to that must be approved by voters.
The guaranteed tax base for GFPS is projected to generate $15.3 million.
If mill values remain the same as last year and other funding factors are unchanged, the amount generated by local taxpayers is projected to decrease by $564,061 to $8.4 million, according to Lacey’s presentation.
The total projected revenue for the upcoming year is $71,724,000. The shortage from a 100 percent funded budget is $1,576,701 under current projections, according to Lacey’s presentation.
GFPS is contractually obligated to $604,000 for salary increases for the upcoming year and if the district only provides that and no other wage increase and doesn’t account for health care increases, the gap between the revenues and the amount needed to maintain current programs and staffing is $215,054.
To provide a 3 percent increase for health insurance, that requires another $192,000 in revenue.
“We believe that we need to try…to provide increases to our most important assets, which are our employees,” Lacey said.
If the district were to provide a 1 percent wage increase to employees, the budget shortfall increases to $941,054. If the district provided a 2 percent increase, the shortfall increases to nearly $1.5 million.
GFPS made $500,000 worth of staff reductions to federal Title 1 school-wide programs during the current budget year.
Those cuts included a family engagement advocate at three schools, two math tutors, two literacy teachers, as assessment coordinator and a pre-K teacher and para.
For the upcoming year, the district is anticipating $385,000 in federal reductions which will mean Lincoln and Lewis and Clark elementaries are no longer Title 1 schools and will lose three full-time employees between the two schools. There will also be 2.5 FTE staff reductions at other schools and reductions in supplies, according to Lacey’s presentation.
A significant cost for GFPS is technology. The district currently gets $225,000 through a levy but the projected cost for the current budget year is $1.99 million. Of that, $1.6 million is coming from the general fund, according to Lacey’s presentation.
Lacey said the budget committee could consider no levy and focus on reductions or tap into the interlocal savings fund, that currently has $1.49 million accrued since 2011, or some combination of the two.
Or, the committee could consider an operational levy or a technology levy.
The max the district could levy for an operational levy is $1.57 million, but Lacey said if the committee wanted to pursue a levy, she’d recommend just the elementary district, which would be a max of about $1.45 million, versus that and the high school district, which would be a lesser amount.
A technology levy could be pursued at $1.39 million to cover the district’s technology budget and reduce strain on the general fund, leaving those funds for other costs.
If the board opted for reductions, Lacey gave examples of potential cuts based on suggestions from the community over the years to make a hypothetical $1 million reduction.
If the cut was made entirely with teachers at $50,000 annually, that would be 20 full-time teachers, on top of the federal cuts and preschool reductions.
If the cuts came from support staff at $20,000 annually ,that would be 50 full-time positions.
If the district cut administrative positions at $90,000, that would be 11 full-time positions and would be impossible without risking accreditation, Lacey said. Without accreditation, the district would lose state funding.
Over the last decade, Lacey said the district has made $10 million in reductions, which includes 89 teachers.
“I think a lot of those reductions are coming home to roost,” she said.
Consolidation or closing schools has been considered and could be considered in the future, but wouldn’t likely net much of a long-term cost savings, GFPS officials said Tuesday.