Billings Public Schools is still waiting for a report about its structural budget deficit that was expected more than a month ago.
The K-8 budget problems came to light in August. The district’s consistent revenue streams haven’t kept pace with its expenses for several years. One-time only money has filled the gaps — the district can pay its bills — but it’s not necessarily sustainable.
School District 2 contracted a retired school finance officer from Kalispell to review finances to help establish the deficit ceiling — the financial number the district needs to hit for a sustainable budget. It can be a tricky process; a school superintendent once compared Montana school funding to the Seattle gum wall, a mishmash of additions and different pieces that form a sticky structure.
Superintendent Greg Upham said that the report was first expected in August, then in September.
Now, district CFO Craig Van Nice said that a draft of the report is expected Friday.
The district is expected to be short about $4.3 million in this school year's budget based on consistent revenue sources. One-time money is expected to make do, but can't be counted on in the future, Upham said. A review of previous budgets found that the structural deficit has grown from $900,000 two years ago and $2.4 million last year.
Upham reiterated that he would recommend that trustees run an elementary levy in the May school election which could raise $1.5 million each year for the district operation budget if it passes — about a $9 per year tax increase on a $100,000 home.
"I don't think we really have a choice," he said. "It would be the only levy that we ran."
Upham has said that regardless of new revenue, the district will have to make some degree of staffing cuts.
Trustee Joe Raffiani expressed some frustration with the delay of the report on the deficit.
"It's now October, and we still don't have it," he said.
Upham said that it hasn't delayed the district's review of programs and finances preparing for possible cuts. He said the district has also prepared its own financial projections.
"It's the second set of eyes that's most important for us to be able to look at it," he said.
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