School board approves budget that includes reduction in taxes

The Great Falls Public Schools board of trustees voted 6-0 during their special meeting on Aug. 22 to approve the $92.4 million budget for the current fiscal year.

Since school districts levy taxes to hit a certain dollar level, when the value of mills increases, the district typically has to levy fewer mills, according to Brian Patrick, GFPS director of operations.

That means this year’s school taxes will be decreased by $8.15 on a $100,000 residential property, decreased by $12.23 on a $150,000 property, and decreased by $16.31 on a $200,000 property, according to GFPS data.

The decrease is in part due to state assistance, Patrick said.

The budget doesn’t include the retirement fund since that’s a county budget and levied by the county.

Few members of the public attended the meeting and none offered comments on the budget.

Trustee Jeff Gray said that the district is facing a number of challenges, including homeless students, high numbers of students on free and reduced lunch, aging facilities and more.

The overall picture, he said, “it’s not rosy.”

He said that mean the district will have to pursue a levy next year.

Trustee Kim Skornogoski said the board knows it can’t tap into the reserves every year to balance their budgets.

“That is not a long-term solution,” she said.

The long-term solution, she said, is to ask the tax payers to pay the full 20 percent the state leaves to the local tax base.

She said other school districts in Montana are levying higher amounts and those students are getting higher quality education. She said Great Falls students will have to compete against those students later for scholarships and jobs.

“I hope the public can see the value of education,” Skornogoski said. “The time has come to invest in our kids.”

Trustee Teresa Schreiner said that communities that are investing in education at higher levels are also experiencing economic growth.

“Economic growth follows education,” she said.

GFPS looking at budget options to absorb projected shortfall

Patrick said during the Aug. 19 meeting that a number of factors impacted this year’s budget including legislative changes, the Calumet tax protest, no levy request, inflation adjustment, additional state funding, the taxable valuation and student numbers.

GFPS to forgo levy this year

The budget includes the transportation fund, which is a mix of state, county and local money. The district is reimbursed by the state based on miles covered by bus routes and the size of the buses. The bus depreciation fund allows buses to be depreciated up to 150 percent of the original cost and the annual amount can’t exceed 20 percent. Patrick said the purpose of the fund is to be able to set money aside so the district is able to replace buses versus running them until they’re unsafe.

The technology fund includes a permanent levy with $150,000 for the elementary and $75,000 for the high school districts.

Patrick said that the technology levy will run permanently unless an increased amount is requested and approved by the voters and then the levy would run for 10 years.

Salaries make up 84-86 percent of the budget, Patrick said.

The budget includes:

  • 1 percent increase for 152 non-union, classified personnel, an overall increase of $9,795 for a total of $989,329 for this group;
  • a change to the salary structure for teacher aides. This employee group includes about 65 employees and this year will include an increase of 59 cents per hour, an overall increase of $41,205 for a total of $661,458 for the group;
  • 1 percent increase for the 98 employees in the paraeducator group for an increase of $16,000 and a total of $1.59 million for the group;
  • 1 percent increase for the support personnel group, which includes 33 employees, for an increase of $13,577 and a total of $1.37 million for the group;
  • 1 percent increase for the 48 employees in the administrator, principal and supervisor group. The increase equates to $40,961 percent for a total of $4.14 million for the group.