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Published September 12, 2013, 08:18 PM

Cuts coming for Grand Forks school district

Cuts to spending and a deficit are on the horizon for Grand Forks Public Schools following a Monday night School Board vote.

By: Brandi Jewett, Grand Forks Herald

Cuts to spending and a deficit are on the horizon for Grand Forks Public Schools following a Monday night School Board vote.

New calculations from the district’s business manager, Vicky Schwartz, put the school’s projected deficit for the 2013-14 school year at a little more than $1 million after the board chose to raise taxes by a smaller amount than suggested by administration.

Those administrators are now meeting to decide where they can afford to cut within the district’s $87 million budget.

“The conversation has started,” Schwartz said. “We’re trying to figure how to cut $1 million — or if that’s even possible.”

Administrators are discussing cuts and will soon meet with school principals to determine what types of reductions are viable for schools.

The district’s superintendent, Larry Nybladh, said Monday night that the district would have to determine its priorities if a deficit budget were to pass.

“We’ll have to ask, ‘What do we cut first and how deep?’” he said.

Exactly where money will be taken from has yet to be decided and will likely be a months-long process, according to Schwartz.

‘Option 4’

The district’s financial position is the result of a 7-2 vote by the School Board in favor of a 21.7 percent tax increase.

Board President Vicki Ericson and board member Cynthia Schabb opposed the motion.

At Monday night’s meeting, the board was presented with three budget options from Schwartz. The option approved by the board, however, came from board member Kelly Hogness.

“I propose an Option 4,” he said Monday. “If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, we’ll never cut … We need to force ourselves into deficit spending.”

Hogness’ proposal nets the owner of a $165,795 home — Grand Forks average taxable home value — an extra $40 in reductions on his or her property tax bill. Hogness also asked that language in his motion include that the board strive to cut more mills in the future. Legally, his proposal can’t force future boards to cut mills, just suggest they do so.

“We can let the voters decide if the board is buying mills down fast enough,” Hogness said.

Tax relief for North Dakota property owners was approved by the state Legislature this year in the form of a 50-mill buydown for school districts. Instead of passing along all 50 mills of relief — about $400 on average — the owner of the aforementioned home will see 34 mills or $247 in savings.

Other choices

The approval of Hogness’ motion followed the defeat of another.

The highly publicized 28.6 percent increase that had outraged residents venting at the district’s first public hearing on its budget failed by a vote of 4-5 at the meeting.

Board members Ericson, Schabb, Mike St. Onge and Eric Lunn voted against the increase.

The 28.6 percent hike would have allowed the district to maintain a balanced budget following a multimillion-dollar deficit predicted for the 2012-13 school year. That shortfall was projected to be $6.2 million but will be more like $5.4 million, according to Schwartz.

Left untouched by a board vote were two other budget options proposed by administration.

The second of those proposed a 24 percent increase while the third option asked for no tax hike.

The second option also would have had the district running a deficit, but Schwartz said Wednesday that deficit would have been more manageable at about $689,000.

By the numbers

The Grand Forks School Board passed a 21.7 percent property tax increase Monday in lieu of a 28.6 percent increase originally proposed by district administration. The proposal creates a more than $1 million deficit for the district. Here’s the breakdown for the average taxable home value in Grand Forks under the new proposal for the 2013-2104 school year.

Home value: $165,795.

2012 general fund taxes: $917.68.

2013 general fund taxes: $699.83.

Difference: $247.85.

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