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Mitchell School District could cut opt-out in half for 2015

The Mitchell School District is looking at cutting its current opt-out of $200,000 per year in half for the 2015 calendar year, thanks to an increase in enrollment in the district and state funding increases.

Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves has pointed to those two factors as reasons for potentially lowering the opt-out. The opt-out was lowered last year from $400,000 to $200,000 in time for the 2014 calendar year.

"We've used the opt-out when we're in a financial pickle," Graves said. "We're fortunate that our budget has been watched closely and we can look at bringing that opt-out down."

For the 2013-14 school year, Mitchell's enrollment was 2,714 students. The school previously hadn't had more than 2,600 students since 2002-03 or more than 2,700 since the 1990s. It was the fifth straight year of increased enrollment for the district, and each student adds to the school's budget. The state funds districts at a rate of $4,626 per student, and the jump from 2,589 students in fall 2012 meant more than $550,000 of additional funding compared to the previous year.

Graves said approval from the school board -- which is necessary to change the opt-out -- would likely come in August or September.

"We always have to make sure we're using what's only necessary," he said. "The opt-out is no good if you use it all and count on that being a part of your regular budget."

A state formula dictates how much money schools receive per student, from a combination of local and state funding sources. An opt-out means a local government has made a decision to opt out of state-imposed limits on increases in annual property tax revenue and to collect more taxes per year from local taxpayers than state limits would otherwise allow.

A 3-percent increase in funding by the Legislature during the 2014 session will help ease budgets too, Graves said.

Mitchell's opt-out was passed prior to a July 2002 deadline, which limited subsequent opt-out measures to five years, essentially making Mitchell's permanent. The opt-out was for $700,000 and the district used $600,000 in 2003. Graves said no opt-out was used from 2008 to 2010.

"When we first passed the opt-out, the board said they would only use as much as the district needed," he said. "I think the board has done that and from what I've seen from the board, they're supportive of lowering the opt-out."

Opt-out amounts by year for the Mitchell School District:

2003: $600,000

2004: $550,000

2005: $350,000

2006: $250,000

2007: $150,000

2008: $0

2009: $0

2010: $0

2011: $200,000

2012: $400,000

2013: $400,000

2014: $200,000