Asking the Kuna school district to cut just 9 percent of its budget in these economic times is not an unreasonable request, according to one of the participants in last week’s study circle session hosted by the school district.
The small business owner said that she has had to deal with a lot more than a 9 percent reduction in revenue in her business, forcing her to cut pay, health benefits, paid vacations, paid sick days and holidays. And she reported that her employees are just happy to still have a job. She said she’s had to comb through her budget multiple times looking for savings, and she urged the school district to do the same.
About 20 people showed up last Thursday for the school district’s study circle on the options for a potential supplemental levy in the face of possible public education cuts from the state.
The state Legislature is considering a $62 million cut in public education funding due to decreased revenues because of the economic recession. School district officials have said that Kuna represents about 1 percent of the state budget, meaning a $62 million statewide cut would result in a $620,000 cut to Kuna’s budget. But district officials now say Kuna represents 1.5 percent of the public education budget, meaning Kuna could see cuts of $930,000. In addition, Kuna can expect a $450,000 cut due to a loss of one-time federal stimulus money, according to the district business manager Bryan Fletcher.
But Fletcher presented figures last week to the study circle that projected a $1.95 million shortfall in funding. He said he plugged the district’s average daily attendance numbers into a worksheet provided by the state to come up with the anticipated revenue shortfall.
Still, last year, the district anticipated $1.9 million in cuts from the state and imposed about $2.6 million in cuts, including charging students as much as $100 per sport as an activity fee.
But now we learn that the funding gap from the state last year was about $637,000, according to the district’s supplemental levy presentation.
At one study circle table, all four citizen participants expressed confusion over the numbers that the district presented and one person suggested that the presentation was misleading because the graphs were “zoomed in” when showing the potential shortfall, making the shortfall appear larger than reality.
The district is currently operating with a $1.1 million supplemental levy that was approved by voters two years ago and expires at the end of this year. The district said the levy costs taxpayers $114 per $100,000 of taxable value.
Study Circle participants were presented with four supplemental levy scenarios:
• Option 1: No Supplemental Levy; Reduces property taxes by $114 per $100,000 in taxable value.
Possible losses include: 12 Teachers, 1 Admin, 4 Support Staff, Keep all existing reductions in place, Salary/Benefit, Extracurricular activities and programs, Staff positions (teachers, administrators & support staff), Course offerings at secondary schools.
• Option 2: $1.1 Million Levy; Keeps property taxes flat at $114 per $100,000 of taxable value.
Possible losses include: 12 Teachers, 1 Admin, 4 Support Staff, Keep all existing reductions in place. Additional reductions may still be necessary, including Salary/Benefit, Extracurricular activities and programs, Staff positions (teachers, administrators & support staff) and course offerings at secondary schools
• Option 3: $1.5 Million Levy; Increases property taxes to $156 per $100,000, an increase of $42.
• Option 4: $1.95 Million Levy; Increases property taxes to $203 per $100,000, an increase of $88.
Opinions of the options at one table were varied. One father whose son plays three sports at the high school (and thus pays $300 per year in extracurricular fees) voted for Option 4 or even higher, namely because he would actually save money by paying $88 more in taxes and saving $300 in fees. Another participant voted for Option 2 to keep taxes flat but to look for more efficiencies in the district. One father, who voted for Option 4, said he didn’t want to pay higher taxes but he wanted the best education environment for his two young children who were just entering the school district.
I have this overwhelming sense, though, that people’s patience is wearing thin. Like the folks at the table, a lot of Kuna residents want to support the school district. They recognize that Kuna is one of the lowest-cost districts in one of the lowest-cost states in the country. They recognize that we don’t have a lot of administrators falling over themselves, that class sizes are high and getting higher. But the numbers just don’t make sense.
“I really can’t make a decision based on the information tonight,” said one participant. “I’m still looking for facts. I’m confused about some of what was presented tonight.”
I suspect that until the district presents coherent, consistent budget numbers, support for yet another supplemental levy just might wane.