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Initial school district budget raises few concerns

The Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy. (Republic file photo)

Mitchell School District's main budget for the 2018-19 school year would decrease slightly from the current year's total under an initial proposal presented to the Mitchell Board of Education Monday.

Some issues, such as teacher salary raises, remain unsettled. The district will begin negotiations with the Mitchell Education Association on April 30. The district and its teachers are currently in the second year of a multi-year contract, so negotiations will cover salaries only. Following the conclusion of that negotiation, the district will seek a settlement on hourly wages with the Mitchell Classified Education Association.

A detailed accounting of the 2019 fiscal year budget year proposal will be made to the board in May, but Monday's initial look gave members few reasons for concern.

District enrollment continues to be static, health insurance will increase just 1 percent next year, and dental costs will increase 2 percent. Changes in those areas often drive large budget fluctuations.

Some concerns were expressed Monday about future outlays for special education funding, but that remains a large unknown.

The preliminary budget for Mitchell Technical Institute shows a .05 percent decrease in expected revenue and spending next year, down from $23,012,181 in fiscal year 2018 to $22,999,783 in fiscal year 2019. The biggest changes result from the loss of a $150,000 federal grant. There will be a $2 per-credit-hour increase in MTI tuition, and enrollment is conservatively projected to decrease slightly.

The district's general fund budget for K-12 education would decrease to $18,544,791 in fiscal year 2018-19 from $18,758,695 the prior year.

Changes result from the loss of two state grants and the reduction of one full-time elementary instructor position, said district business manager Steve Culhane. The district will lose $150,000 from a 21st Century grant and lose $122,500 from a state bureau of communication grant. On the plus side, state aid is expected to increase 1 percent, or about $175,000. The district also will get a one-time state payment of $112,717.

Overall, funding changes could result in a $336,000 reduction in the current $4 million general fund reserve. That's if every budgeted dollar is spent, Culhane said, and typically that doesn't happen.

Once again, the district will not opt out, a process that would allow it to raise an additional $700,000 from taxpayers outside the state funding formula. The district hasn't opted out for eight years, Culhane said.

Next year's budget proposal does include the $1.2 million recently approved for new artificial grass and track replacement at Joe Quintal Field. It also would continue to add $500,000 to the district's capital outlay reserve, bringing savings there to $2 million by the end of June 2019. The money is being saved to reduce a future bond for replacing Mitchell High School, an effort now targeted to begin in 2025.

Special education funding resulted in the most discussion by the board. This year, the district expects to deplete its special education fund balance, setting it up to request assistance from a state fund for high-need students. The state, however, has warned districts to expect only 80 percent of requested dollars. That would cause the district to borrow education money from the general fund, reducing the amount available for other spending.

Districts nationwide are experiencing the same problem, said Superintendent Joe Graves. A special legislative committee will begin to address the problem this summer, he said.

This summer also will bring the expansion of the summer food service. Previously done only at Longfellow Elementary, this year it will be expanded to every school but L.B. Williams, excluded because it does not meet federal requirements.

In other action, the board approved several revisions to school policies. Most were necessary to remain in accord with recent legislative changes.

• A change governing the policy on spectator buses deleted a requirement that students be given access to a telephone upon their return to school. The prevalence of cell phones makes it unnecessary.

• A change to Interview of Students by Outside Agencies was made to follow state law allowing Department of Social Services and law enforcement personnel to interview suspected victims of child abuse without prior parental notification.

• The Board recognized Health Occupations Students of America national qualifiers, and Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy welding instructor Daniel Zard was recognized for the successful application of a $46,429 grant from the Workforce Education Grant Program.

• The consent agenda included the following personnel changes. New hires: Hillary Paulson, science teacher at Mitchell Middle School; Andrew Roidt, English language arts teacher at Mitchell Middle School; Rachael Kriz, PLC Teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary; and Sadie Wilson, English language arts teacher at Mitchell Middle School.

• Resignations: LeeAnne Williams, paraeducator at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary.

• Mitchell Technical Institute new hires: Scott Kortan, math instructor.