ERIE — Erie USD 101 Board of Education approved its 2019-2020 budget this week and the picture is looking brighter than a year ago despite there being little change in the district’s spending limits.

Last year’s budget was $6,244,350 and this year’s is $6,513,675, a difference of $269,325.

Last school year, Superintendent Troy Damman shared with the board how the district was operating in the red in certain funds, due in part to decreases in special education and weighted funding in the prior five years and the state not acting on the Supreme Court decision to increase public school funding.

Additionally, Damman talked about the decrease in contingency reserves and capital outlay funds. Former Superintendent Steve Woolf had said voters rallied in opposition for years against any tax increase for capital expenses, leaving the district struggling to maintain facilities and equipment. Woolf was finally able to convince voters to allow a 4 mill capital outlay tax, but contingency and capital outlay funds were diminishing given all the deferred projects.

“Our cash balances were very low starting out the year,” Damman said.

This year, changes are helping eliminate the bleak outlook.

“We are able to make some adjustments in our budget. Closing out the year and starting this new year, our cash balances have increased some. We’re going to continue to work on that to get them back to a good operating level,” Damman said.

New money the district will receive will help.

Assessed valuation increased $725,772 in the district helping to decrease taxes levied for the supplemental general fund (local option budget) from 23.696 mills to 19.701. The mill levy for the bond and interest fund decreased as well.

In April the district passed another 4 mill increase in the capital outlay levy without public protest.

As a result, the total levy for the district decreased from 69.915 to 69.143 mills.

A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 in assessed value. The owner of a $50,000 home in Erie will pay $397.57 to support USD 101’s budget, which is $4.44 less than that owner paid last year, assuming the owner’s property value remained steady.

With the capital outlay mill levy now at the state cap of 8 mills, the district is again able to address long-deferred capital outlay projects, such as replacing old buses and building maintenance.

“We basically doubled it,” Damman said. “Our capital outlay mill levy is going to $256,842 and then we receive 43% additional money from the state for a total of $110,442, so it basically doubled.”

This is the first time the district has been able to max out the capital outlay levy. 

“We’re going to be able to use the funds to purchase buses. We’ve already purchased two new buses and a new van. We’re going to continue with a couple more new buses as we move forward each year so that we can get back to a rotational plan on the vehicles. That’s going to help us out considerably,” he said. “There’s also other facility updates we need to do, some roof improvements, numerous things like that we need to work on a we move forward.”

Damman said when the state estimates came out on funding they over estimated the increase. Still, the district will receive more than before. The district now figures it will receive between $140,000 and $150,000 in additional money this year.

“It’s all dependent on the student count. Our enrollment is down slightly this year, so it will have an impact on that,” Damman said. “It will kind of depend on what our total audited amount is on Sept. 20, but it will help out considerably.”

The main focus with the additional money will be salaries.

“We really want to try to get our salaries comparable to area schools and we’re working really hard to try to increase their salaries,” Damman said.

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