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Twin Falls Seniors graduate

Twin Falls seniors graduate during commencement Tuesday evening, May 21, 2019, at CSI in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — Trustees approved raises for teacher salaries and declined to ask taxpayers for lost money.

The Twin Falls School District Board of Trustees approved a $102 million budget at a meeting Monday to pay off bonds and increase teacher salaries for the 2019-20 school year.

The budget does not include a judgment levy to recover from taxpayers the $803,000 the district was forced to return to Chobani last week after the company litigated a $144 million drop in their plant’s assessed property value with the county.

That money would have gone towards paying off bonds, Superintendent Dr. Brady Dickinson said.

“It doesn’t impact the overall operations of the district,” he said. “It just means we’re not paying them off as quickly as we had been.”

Dickinson said the district is still on track to meet their payment obligation and is hopeful they’ll be able to complete future projects without raising taxes.

Last year, the board approved refinancing a portion of a $74 million bond from 2014 that helped build three new schools. The district estimated it would save $5 million in expected interest.

The budget includes a $64 million general fund which provides for about $3 million in new spending. Most of that goes toward a 2% raise in teacher salaries. That increase is commendable, said Peggy Hoy, president of the teacher’s union.

“Every teacher in our district is getting an increase in salary,” Hoy said. “I think our teachers are getting the respect that they need.”

The state should still consider increased compensation for veteran teachers, Hoy said.

In March, the Legislature approved a bill to raise the minimum teacher salary from the current $35,800 to $38,500 in 2019-20 and $40,000 in 2020-21. Salaries are negotiated locally but the minimum salary is set by the state.

Only 16 teachers in the district required raises to meet the new state minimum for the upcoming school year. Salaries and benefits make up 84% of the general fund budget, or about $53.5 million.

The budget also adds $1.3 million to the contingency reserve, an account that provides budget flexibility for the district. That includes potential money collected from an emergency levy — a tax the district can raise if it sees a significant rise in attendance. The district is required to budget for it but won’t necessarily rely on it, Dickinson said.

The contingency reserve also budgets carryover money, which allows the district to save money in case of an economic downturn. The district spent most of their carryover money after the 2008 recession and can now start saving again, Dickinson said.

Other money in the budget will maintain security personnel the district hired last year and pay for security features at some school building entrances. The district was forced to cut money for supplies last year to pay for the added security officers, and the approved budget restores some of that money.

About 75% of the fund budget is paid for by the state. The district will receive $3.8 million in new state money, an increase of about 3.5%, after the Legislature increased K-12 spending statewide in March. Most of that new money goes to teacher salaries.

About 10% of the general fund is paid for locally with levies and bonds approved by voters, and 11% comes from the federal government.

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