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Curtailing spending, bracing for 'harsh economic realities'

by MAUREEN DOLAN
Staff Writer | December 26, 2010 8:00 PM

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Larry Harwood dumps a load of snow removed from a school parking lot at one of the Coeur d'Alene School District's snow dump sites in Midtown.

Editor's note: Last week we concluded a series looking at per-resident spending by city throughout Kootenai County. Now we shift our focus to school districts in the county.

COEUR d'ALENE - The Coeur d'Alene School District has $55.2 million in its general fund this year, and expects to spend $68 million.

The district has a total budget of $73.2 million which includes roughly $5 million in various reserves and fund balances.

Spending per student in the Coeur d'Alene School District for this fiscal year is expected to be $6,632.

"We have created a school district focused on student excellence that our community can remain proud of, all the while tightening our belts from the top down and creating greater efficiencies throughout our system," said Superintendent Hazel Bauman.

Reductions in state spending on public education have forced the district to slash $8.8 million from its general fund in the past two years.

A school district's general maintenance and operation fund includes most of its expenditures that finance the district's instructional programs that are supported by local tax revenue and most of the state funding received by the district.

Coeur d'Alene's $55.2 million general maintenance and operation fund pays for basic district operations - most of its salaries and benefits, supplies and services it purchases.

Bauman took over the district in 2008, and believes she has established herself as a fiscally conservative school leader.

"I have already led our district through tough budget cuts," Bauman said. "Under my leadership we have curtailed spending, established a strong fund balance and positioned ourselves to weather the harsh economic realities we will continue to face for the next two or three years."

There is roughly $3 million in the district's general fund reserve this year and another $2 million in reserves in the budget for federally funded programs, the district's before- and after-school program and the bond that built Lake City High School in 1994. That $5 million represents the approximate difference between the district's total anticipated spending of $68 million and its total budget of $73.2 million.

The $12.8 million in expenses outside of the $55.2 million general fund are for federal programs like special education and those authorized through the No Child Left Behind Act like Title 1, expenses for the district's before and after school child care program, and the school breakfast and lunch programs.

The district will also spend, outside the general fund, $1.6 million toward retirement of the bond that built Lake City High School in 1994.

Despite the cuts already made to the district's budget, it faces a potential $12.8 million shortfall next year. The budget hole includes the loss of $7.8 million local property tax dollars when a voter-approved supplemental levy expires and comes off the tax rolls at the end of June. There is the additional loss of $5 million in one-time funds - federal stimulus dollars, jobs fund money and reserves that have already been used.

Trustees are in the process of deciding how much to ask voters for at the polls on March 8. They hope to see the $7.8 million replaced with a new levy that includes an additional amount to cover much of the rest of the shortfall. They could ask voters for as much as the $12.8 million. If that amount is approved, the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home would increase by about $68 per year. The annual cost of the existing levy for that homeowner is $105.68. It would go up to $173.70.

Bauman recommended to trustees in December that they consider levying no less than $11.5 million total, and use $1.3 million from the district's general fund balance reserve to make up the $12.8 million.

Trustees are expected to set the amount they will float before voters at their Jan. 10 meeting.

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