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Harrison Special Ed

Special education teacher Amy Kenyon goes over a reading assignment with her students March 8 at Harrison Elementary School in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — Approving a budget is the biggest financial decision the Twin Falls school board makes each year.

After a public hearing Monday night, trustees approved an $87.6 million total budget — which includes all funds — for the Twin Falls School District‘s 2018-19 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Trustee Todd Hubbard was absent from the meeting.

A big chunk of the budget, $43.4 million, will go toward employee salaries. Another $16.5 million is for employee benefits.

The school district wants to pay teachers competitively and spends more on salaries than what it receives from the state, school district spokeswoman Eva Craner told the Times-News on Tuesday.

That’s largely an effort to attract teachers and other school employees in the midst of a statewide teacher shortage and competitive local job market.

The budget also includes 9½ additional job positions. They’re not all new positions, though, because some went unfilled this school year.

Here’s an overview of other key areas in the budget:

Property taxes

For property owners, the tax rate for Twin Falls School District levies and bonds is slated to drop: from $461.83 per $100,000 in valuation this year to $452.05 next year.

The exception, Craner said, is those who’ve seen a significant increase in their property valuation.

The school board pursued a lower amount for its supplemental levy renewal last year with the goal of providing some relief for taxpayers. Voters approved a two-year, $8.5 million measure in March 2017 — $500,000 less than the previous levy.

“That’s something our school board has been focused on pretty significantly in their pursuit of renewal of our ballot measures,” Craner said.

Special education and food services

Special education and food services have a big impact on the general fund budget.

The school district typically spends about $600,000 more each year for services such as occupational and physical therapy for special education students than what it generates through Medicaid billing. Those are services the district is required by federal law to provide.

For food services, there’s typically a debt at the end of each school year as a result of student meals parents haven’t paid for.

“That adds up when every student owes a little bit for their lunch account,” Craner said. But “we want to make sure all students are fed,” she added, and schools aren’t going to disallow students from getting a lunch.

Curriculum

The school district plans to spend about $6.9 million on supplies, materials, curriculum and textbooks. But that’s to maintain what’s already in place. It’s not planning to adopt new curriculum next year.

The middle and high schools are starting to explore new science programs, but it’s early in the process, Craner said. It’s a great need, she said, but adopting new curriculum is expensive.

Contingency reserve funds and carry forward

The school district will have nearly $400,000 in contingency reserve funds — essentially, an emergency fund — for next fiscal year.

School districts are allowed to set aside the equivalent of up to 5 percent of their total expenditures for a contingency reserve fund. It can be spent only if the school board approves its use.

“I think those funds are important,” Craner said. When the economic downturn hit in the late 2000s, the school district was “relatively lucky” with its amount of carryover money it had, she said. The school district used furlough days but didn’t have to lay off teachers.

The money set aside isn’t spent immediately, but can “help the district to provide education in difficult times,” she said.

The amount will be enough to cover five days worth of operating expenses, but it’s “not where we’d like to see it,” fiscal affairs director Bob Seaman said Tuesday.

The school district is also planning to bring $6.8 million in projected carry forward from this year into next year.

When a new fiscal year starts, it’s nearly two months before the school district receives its first installment of state funding. Without money the district sets aside, Seaman said, it wouldn’t be able to make payroll.

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