Sisters schools looking at state school funding

 

Last updated 1/17/2023 at Noon



Sisters School District (SSD) is looking forward to the next two years and the state budget that will be proposed mid-2023, determining the funding for schools for the 2023-2025 biennium.

Superintendent Curt Scholl spoke to The Nugget about what potential budget numbers look like for SSD.

“We are looking at a lot of inflationary trends with affordable housing for our staff, and costs of operations being higher with the cost of fuel rising last year, things like that,” said Scholl.

According to discussions with the legislative forums over the last couple of months, the budget number that the State had come up with so far was a school fund of $9.52 billion.

“This is the first mention and first number we’ve heard, so they will continue to lobby it and dance with the number before landing on a final number sometime in June,” said Scholl.

Based on previous years and working on Sisters’ budget, the state number that SSD needs to fully fund all services — special programs, paying staff, operations, mechanical etc. — is $10.3 billion.

“We get an amount from the State, and we have to provide certain services that are required no matter what they give us,” said Scholl.

Scholl said some things would have to be put on hold if the budget was underfunded, such as upgrading textbooks, maintenance, and purchase of support materials.

“We try and do more with less and do things that have the least impact on kids, but with maintenance and textbooks — when does that start to have an impact as well?” he said.

The School District uses the school state fund mainly for operations, paying staff, and overall programming, providing the basic needs for the schools in the District.

“This is not to say if we have that proposed number, we will have to make cuts, but there will be an impact on what we can upgrade with technology, hardware, and maintenance, and how long we can limp those things along,” said Scholl.

The money allocation of the state school fund depends on number of kids enrolled at the school, and higher and consistent enrollment numbers at SSD will help with the allocated money. A shortfall in state budget funds will potentially threaten some of the unique aspects of Sisters schools, like small class sizes and specialty programming.

“We are far from the end of the process — I am not panicked,” Scholl said. “I trust the process in place to work with the number.”

Inflationary costs across the board are creating moments of choosing where money is allocated dependent on the budget.

“$10.3 billion allows us to do full-service support of organizations at that number, but lower than that we have some things to consider,” said Scholl.

Through generous support of the Sisters community, SSD is able to provide unique services and programs for students.

“We are blessed to be in a supportive community with the local option and bond, the concern is to fully fund every aspect of our services of where we need to be,” said Scholl.

The local option is voted on by Sisters residents and is in its fifth renewal cycle, coming back on the ballot in May 2023. The local option supports specialty programming and small class sizes within Sisters schools.

“The local option helps operations overall as well, and is voted on and can be used to target those class sizes, programs, and counselling support,” said Scholl.

There are also occasional bonds for infrastructure and maintenance that go on the ballot for voters as well. The last was in 2015, which allowed the SSD to catch up on maintenance and operations across all three schools.

The most recent bond passed in 2021 as a capital asset support and supports infrastructure, which is currently funding the construction of the new elementary school set to open in 2024.

According to the SSD website: “On May 18, 2021, Sisters voters passed a $33,800,000 general obligation bond to pay for the construction costs of a new elementary school within Sisters School District (SSD), as well as related support and maintenance costs associated with the District’s 2016 Master Plan.

The new ‘Shared Campus’ location for the elementary school is a critical component of the 2016 Master Plan.

It will allow for increased safety, transportation, operational and educational benefits for all of the students in the District.

Fifth grade will return to the elementary school location, which is better aligned with educational best practices and provides additional capacity in the middle school.”

State school allocations fund basic services, while local options support smaller class sizes and unique programing. Bond funds for capital projects can only be used for those projects, not for operations.

“We are so blessed by the Sisters community and the support they show our schools, and the local option that has been renewed once before in my tenure here. We will continue to work the numbers and come up with contingencies to be able to provide the same level of services to our kids,” said Scholl.

The school board will vote on the budget in June, hopefully with a final number from the State for the state school fund provided before their final vote.

 

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