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"Fix It" creates financial hurdles for some school districts

By Kaitlin Loukides
Published On: Apr 09 2013 10:42:03 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 09 2013 10:42:52 PM CDT

school boards discuss ramifications of fix it bill and how they can overcome budget hurdles

POCATELLO, Idaho -

A bill passed by lawmakers this year aimed at helping the Idaho school districts may not be as big of a help as initially intended.

Today some school districts met to discuss House Bill 65, also known as the “Fix It” bill, and how it might be more of a hindrance for some school districts around the state.

The American Falls school district is not alone when it comes to figuring out how to balance a budget with practically no more money left for them to spend.

“I think most school districts are in survival mode,” American Falls School District business manager Dan Wolfley said. “In order for our education to survive, we have to get more discretionary money to pay the increase in operating the schools.”

Today the Pocatello-Chubbuck school district held a work session to discuss the best way to start paying-off their bills with a bleak budget.

“What they need to understand is that it does not do any good to have more math, science, or whatever else – more technology, if you can't pay,” Region 5 chair Janie Gebhardt said.

District 25 Superintendent Mary Vagner said the 2.2% funding increase appropriated to them by the legislature can be misleading.

The district will only see $170,000 of that total sum to help balance their budget, when they are currently $2.5 million short.

Vagner, along with the American Falls school district, said the money allotted to their districts come with stipulations. A percentage of the money must only be spent as the legislature directs. This means spending on professional development programs and even on new technology required for the classrooms.

“We are grateful to be able to do (that), but our priority is to be able to pay our bills right now,” Vagner said in response to how the money should be spent.

“We don't even have money for textbooks in our budget,” Gebhardt said.

Ron Bolinger, the American Falls school district superintendent said the entire state has seen a decrease in spending, and this has been a problem since 2009.

“I think that is a well-kept secret that the amount of state funds coming to schools on a year-to-year basis is just not there,” Bolinger said.

So now districts are trying to figure out ways to cut the fat and earn that money without having to resort to cutting jobs or wages.

Bolinger said the American Falls school district is just one out of 14 school districts who has not yet had to cut any jobs, and now more than 80 districts have had to resort to the dreaded 'f'-word: furloughs.

There are 115 school districts in the state.

He also said Idaho ranks last when it comes to the amount of spending on students as compared to the rest of the nation.

Wolfley said the district is currently trying to cut $368,000 this year, which is approximately four-percent of their budget, in order to hold up their end of the agreement in obtaining the $660,000 from the government to help pay-off their pending expenses. However, their overall budget requires $1 million to get over that fiscal bump before they can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

He also said the district is thankful for the help their local patrons donated in order to help obtain this goal.

But with the stipulations placed on the money given to the district, Wolfley said this money is just as good as prepaid funds, and the total number of dollar signs they received in order to put toward their budget came in to the tune of a mere $19,000 from the government.

Meanwhile, the school districts will continue to discuss ways to overcome these financial burdens, and they say they are grateful for the money that has come in, nonetheless.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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