SD2 board gives preliminary budget approval

2014-07-21T21:51:00Z 2014-07-22T00:12:05Z SD2 board gives preliminary budget approvalBy DEREK BROUWER dbrouwer@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

School District 2 School Board trustees granted preliminary approval for next year’s elementary and high school budgets Monday.

For the first time in at least eight years, the proposed budgets include reserve funds exceeding 5 percent of the total budget, as specified by district policy, Chief Financial Officer Leo Hudetz said.

The budgets include pay raises for substitute teachers to the tune of $216,000 at the elementary level and $259,000 for high schools.

Hudetz told trustees the daily rate for substitutes hasn’t been increased in more than a decade.

Substitutes teaching within their certification in elementary schools will receive $85 per day, up from the current rate of $75, business manager Patricia Hubbard said.

The preliminary budgets also include increases in the amounts allocated for capital improvements, more than $800,000 in total. Those line items have been reduced in recent years, Hubbard said.

District officials are still waiting to see how the state tax settlement reached in June with Charter Communications will impact SD2’s revenue.

Charter is one of the top five taxpayers in the district, Hudetz said. He expects SD2 will receive a lump sum from Charter’s back taxes, but the decreased taxable value going forward could mean increased school mills assessed on local taxpayers.

“This has a real impact on our district,” Hudetz said.

The board will vote on final budgets for the upcoming year in August, after a series of hearings are held.

Redistricting

Trustees on Monday solidified membership for the 26-person committee that will propose adjustments to the district’s elementary school boundaries and agreed to have four trustees serve as observers to the process.

However, the board sent the proposed criteria intended to guide the redistricting work back into committee, as trustees differed on how the group should incorporate socioeconomic diversity into its recommendations.

Trustee Kathy Aragon said she thinks the redistricting group should seek to maximize student diversity where possible, but said the criteria don’t reflect that priority.

“I think this is really important,” she said. “It’s important for education. It’s important for our community.”

Trustee Teresa Stroebe said increasing diversity shouldn’t result in busing more students.

Discussion among trustees over the question of whether the redistricting group should seek to maximize or simply examine diversity lasted for more than 20 minutes, before Superintendent Terry Bouck requested that any change to the criteria should first involve the consulting group hired to oversee the process.

The school board must ultimately approve changes to school boundaries. The process is expected to take at least nine months.

Also on Monday, the board authorized Bouck to hold talks with city officials regarding the future of a plot of land adjacent to Cottonwood Park on the West End, which the district previously purchased as a potential site for a new elementary school.

The district entered into an agreement to buy the land at Cottonwood Park in 2007, with the stipulation that SD2 begin construction efforts on the site by 2017.

If the district doesn’t build at Cottonwood by 2017, it must sell the property back to the city for the original purchase price.

“It’s a really good return policy, better than you’ll find at any retail,” SD2 legal counsel Jeff Weldon said.

Bouck suggested that the prospect of securing additional bond dollars for construction of another elementary by 2017 is unlikely.

He also suggested to trustees that the nearby site where one of two new middle schools will be built, at West 56th Street and Grand Avenue, has room for an additional elementary school and may be a better construction option.

Bouck said he’d like to hold a public hearing on the Cottonwood land, noting that planning for the site has been a “hot button” issue in the past.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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