The Pullman School Board unanimously approved a $37.7 million budget for the coming school year during its regular meeting Wednesday — up from $35.3 million last year.
District officials said the lion’s share of the sum will support employee compensation, and much of the increase in expenditures is related to operational costs of opening and staffing the all-new Kamiak Elementary School.
“Always, salaries and benefits are our biggest expenditure,” Pullman School District Finance Manager Diane Hodge said.
Largely because of the new school, Hodge said projected expenses are expected to exceed revenues over the coming four years, but this was anticipated and will be offset by reserves saved from year to year for specifically that purpose. She said in a typical year, the district is required to have a final general fund balance that is about 7 percent of the yearly expenditures. She said district officials have carried an ending balance considerably higher than 7 percent in anticipation of higher yearly expenditures related to Kamiak.
With help from these reserves, Hodge said the district should be able to sustain Kamiak until 2025, at which point it may ask voters to consider raising the amount of its maintenance and operations levy. She added that the district is always carefully conservative when estimating the tax burden of such levies.
“We always try to keep our tax rate level with the previous year,” Hodge said. “For example, when we went out for the $5.5 million maintenance and operations levy in 2016, we told the voters that would be about $3.17 (per $1,000 of assessed property value) — it’s $2.25 right now.”
Hodge said one abnormal item in the budget is a $500,000 transfer to the district’s transportation fund to support the purchase of five new school buses. She said the district was recently named as the recipient of a grant that provides around $35,000 for each roughly $135,000 bus purchased by the district.
“So it’s kind of like buy four, get one free,” she said.
Hodge said a bump in enrollment would certainly help the district’s budgetary position, as the amount of money awarded by the state each year is tied directly to the number of full-time equivalent students, but it’s not something she’s banking on. She said the district has seen dramatic enrollment growth in the last 10 years, but that has begun to taper off — last year’s enrollment numbers were lower than the previous year’s for the first time in a decade. While she doesn’t expect these numbers to drop further, Hodge said she is predicting flat enrollment for the next four years. This means that even a modest boost in enrollment could mean extra money for the district.
“I’m keeping them steady because this is our first drop in over 10 years — I’m just assuming that we’re starting to flatten out,” Hodge said. “When we open a new school, we tend to get more students — that’s what we’re hoping — but again, I’m just going with the flattened enrollment.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.