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Bigfork School Board prepares to pass annual budget

by TAYLOR INMAN
Bigfork Eagle | August 17, 2022 12:00 AM

The Bigfork School Board looked at a preliminary budget for the 2022-2023 school year at a special called meeting last week.

Business Clerk Lacey Porrovecchio walked the finance committee and those in attendance through the 2022-2023 school year budget on Thursday. This is a proposed version of the budget for the upcoming school year, which trustees are expected to pass at their monthly meeting on August 18. The yearly budget for the elementary school is proposed to be around $7.4 million, while the high school is budgeted for around $5.9 million.

For the elementary school, the general fund is budgeted at $4.6 million, with an increase of $311,233.98 from last year. Porrovecchio said this is due to an increase in the district’s ANB, or Average Number Belonging— the student count for each district. There was an increase of 32 students at the elementary school and 21 students at the high school last year.

Transportation is budgeted at $485,000, with an increase of $15,000. Porrovecchio said this is an increase the district could choose to do without, but was in place to offset the cost of gas— which has risen significantly over the past year. There is $170,427 budgeted in the bus depreciation fund, $101,441 in the tution fund, $450,367 in the technology fund, $256,513 in the flex account, $126,836 in the building reserve fund, $490,667 in the debt service fund and $671,090 in the district’s retirement fund.

The board recently approved the purchase of a new bus, which will come out of this year’s bus depreciation fund. There was a reduction to the tuition fund of around $84,000, which Porrovecchio said was due to no longer having the Intermountain program at the elementary school. The debt service fund is based off of the debt service schedule and Porrovecchio said it is the last year they will have to pay on the bond for the K-8 building.

The flex fund consists of what was leftover from the end of year budget, plus a state grant that the district gets for transformational learning. The fund was originally created from a grant around four years ago, but trustees had the option to permissively levy an equal amount from the grant. Porrovecchio said this is the last year the board would be able to levy an amount if they would like, to fund the Professional Learning Community, or PLC program, which is a training resource for teachers to improve student learning. The district will still fund the PLC program and others if they decide to not levy. Finance committee members Zack Anderson, Paul Sandry and Ben Woods discussed not permissively levying any of the grant, as to not raise taxes.

“I guess if we were more desperate that would be another avenue to get more tax revenue. But, we're not desperate, I guess because we run a pretty good budget,” Anderson said.

In the high school’s budget, the general fund is slated to have around $3.2 million, with an increase of $205,349 due to increased enrollment and inflationary increase. There is $422,300 budgeted in the transportation fund and $177,559 for the bus depreciation fund. Porrovecchio said the bus depreciation fund for the high school bears a little more weight because they have more buses to accommodate extracurricular activities and sports. There is a proposed $6,387 budgeted for tuition and $15,436 in the adult education fund. Porrovecchio said the board levied that amount for the adult education fund a few years ago but haven’t used it for anything, so it rolls over every year and gains interest.

Continuing for the high school, $430,392 is budgeted for the technology fund, $164,283 is budgeted for the flex fund, $121,224 is budgeted for the building reserve fund, $440,784 is budgeted for for the retirement fund and there is a little over $1 million budgeted for the debt service fund. Porrovecchio said the debt service schedule for the high school is expected to be paid off by 2036.

She said the overall district property tax for the elementary school is going down, due to the tuition fund decreasing and the amount they have to levy for bus depreciation. The high school’s district property tax requirement will stay the same from last year’s budget.

The board spent time discussing the possibility of raising the cost of school lunches, which Superintendent Tom Stack said hasn’t been raised since 2012. The district has $235,000 in unbudgeted funds for school food service, which Porrovecchio said was money reimbursed from the United States Department of Agriculture’s free lunch program for all students that started during the beginning of the pandemic, but ended on June 30 of this year. This is different from the Free/Reduced Meal Program, which will continue to serve low income students.

Porrovecchio said even though the district charges a little over one dollar for breakfast and two dollars for lunch per student, the USDA program reimbursed the costs at around $4 per lunch, creating a surplus of funds for food service at Bigfork. But, Stack and others are concerned with how long that fund will last due to the district’s low meal prices.

“I sat down with Lacey and Roger, the Head of Food Services, and if we don't adjust our prices that we’re charging for food— for breakfast and lunches, that (fund) could dwindle very quickly,” Stack said.

He said it costs the district around $2.50 for each meal and said Food Services Director Roger Vanlandingham was hoping to see a 50 cent increase for meal prices. Currently, Bigfork charges K-6 $1.25 for breakfast and $2.50 for lunch, and 9-12 is charged $1.50 for breakfast and $2.75 for lunch.

Sandry said he remembers around six years ago the board was grappling with a deficit for food services because “no one was collecting money from kids.” He said Porrovecchio told him she believes the $235,000 could be gone by the end of this school year. Stack added that it’s a tough call, with estimates up to around $200,000-$250,000 in costs. Porrovecchio is sending information about school meals to all board trustees and they are expected to make a decision on an increase at the next meeting.

At their August 18 meeting, school board trustees passed both annual budgets without any major changes.

This story has been updated to add a statement about trustees passing the annual budgets.