School board approves levy elections in May

By 
Deb Hill
News-Argus Managing Editor
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
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Lewistown School District Business Manager Rebekah Rhoades works at her desk Monday afternoon. Rhoades provided information to the school board Monday night regarding the funding gap and need for a levy election.
Photo by Deb Hill

The Lewistown school board trustees voted Monday night to hold levy elections for both the high school and elementary schools. If voters approve both levies, taxes on a $100,000 home would increase by approximately $9.25 per year.
Business Manager/District Clerk Rebekah Rhoades shared preliminary budgets for the elementary and high schools, explaining the budget shortfalls leading to the need for the levy.
“Our general fund is made up of state and local taxes,” Rhoades said. “Every year we face a loss, and try to figure out how to cover it. The legislature intended for the public to have a say through the levy process.”
Rhoades said the estimated budget shortfall for the 2020-2021 year could be as much as $170,000 for the elementary schools and $178,000 for the high school.
“If the voters pass the requested levies, those shortfalls drop to $120,000 and $130,000, respectively,” Rhoades said. “The high school budget is more critical, as that shortfall is across only four grades, compared with the eight grades covered by the elementary budget.”
According to Rhoades, the bulk of school district’s general fund goes to pay for district staff – about 220 teachers, support staff, paraprofessionals and administrators (not including substitute teachers).
“Around 84 to 85% of the general fund goes to salaries and benefits,” Rhoades said. “The rest is used for classroom supplies and to keep the buildings running. The cost of health insurance, heating oil and other necessary expenditures keeps going up. Unfortunately our budget doesn’t keep pace.”

Rhoades said part of the issue is the smaller class sizes currently moving through the high school.
“Right now we have about the lowest enrollment in recent history at the high school, 304 students,” Rhoades said.
School districts receive state funding based on the number of students, so as the smaller classes move through the elementary, junior high and high schools, budgets are reduced accordingly.
“But we can’t really lay people off and then rehire them a year later when larger classes show up,” Rhoades said, adding that enrollment figures in the lower grades predict a high school surge is on the way.
The Board approved an all-mail election to be held in May requesting an additional $51,646.09 for the elementary budget and $44,713.54 for the high school budget.
General fund levies are different from building reserve levies or bond levies. The last general fund levy requested for the high school was in 2013. Area voters approved general fund levies for the elementary schools in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
“Our community is very supportive,” Rhoades said. “I think that means they see us as responsible.”

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