Thursday, February 2, 2017


After a year that saw more than 11 teachers cut and other spending reductions, the Board of Education is bracing for another tight fiscal year according to a budget report at this week's board meeting.

"This will be a difficult budget year," Superintendent John Ramos declared at Monday's meeting just before Business Administrator Paul Roth offered a first glimpse at the 2017-2018 budget picture that could see a 3% tax increase and likely continued enrollment growth.

"Class sizes have been pushed to limits in many cases," Roth said. "It is unreasonable to expect that our enrollment will level off, we are expecting another increase."

Roth's budget presentation included an expected enrollment jump from 6,959 this year to 6,969 in 2017-2018, with most of that coming from middle and elementary school grades. But he said that would likely be even higher given past estimates and actual numbers.

If the district increases the local tax portion of the budget by the state cap of 2%, that would mean going from $111.7 million in the current year to $113.9 million next year. With other revenues such as state aid and grants the total proposed budget would likely be $128.1 million, up from the total budget of $125.7 million.

But the district could enact a 3% tax increase due to what is known as "banked cap." That occurs when a district does not use the entire 2% tax increase it is allowed under state law in a certain year. It can also bank cap when health costs are increased or enrollment grows.

Because such banked cap was not used in some prior years the district could add another $1.1 million in spending and boost the tax increase by an additional 1% for next year. 

Among the additional spending items that will be considered are another library/media specialist for Columbia High School, additional arts teachers and guidance counselors for the middle schools, a new school safety and security director, an additional CHS assistant principal, and an undisclosed number of additional teachers to reduce some teacher workloads that currently carry six classes.

Roth also noted facility improvements are a need given that most schools are more than 100 years old: "We're starting to run out of space, we're going to have to start putting money into facilities."

The district is also considering hiring a person dedicated to writing grant requests, noting the district does not get as much grant funding as it could.

In positive news, Roth noted that the district's electrical costs have decreased, due in large part to the installation of more efficient LED lights in the high school and middle schools. He also said a CHS boiler improvement will decrease gas usage as well.

But the district is expected to see a 15% health insurance cost hike that cannot by law be passed on to staff, along with a 12% increase in tuition the district pays for students to attend outside schools.

See the entire budget presentation data package HERE.

The next board budget meeting is set for Feb. 27, with several community forums planned for mid-February.

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