ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
The USD 480 budget was approved at the most recently USD 480 school board meeting, and before it was approved, the board got to hear details from USD 480 Director of Business Nila Newton.
“To start off, I want to explain the Revenue Neutral Rate. As you all know, we’ll be exceeding our Revenue Neutral Rate, and what that means is the rate that would keep our revenue at the same amount it was last year for taxes, applied to the new approved values, is lower than what the state-mandated rate is,” Newton said. “It’s something that doesn’t really mean A LOT to us, per se, but it’s not something we can control. The state tells us in the general fund we’re going to levy, say, 20 mills, but our Revenue Neutral Rate would have been 19 mills to raise the same amount of revenue we raised last year.”
Newton then talked about valuations and the different funds.
“With our overall mill rates. For 2024, the overall mill rate will be less than it was last year, which was less than the year before that. For the taxpayers, it’s not going look like we’re lowering taxes, and that’s because the assessed values have gone up. But we are being very responsible and looking at all of that in order to keep tax rates at the right spot,” Newton said. “Our General Fund valuation has decreased slightly, but our Capital Outlay and all the other parts, like the Supplemental and Bond & Interest levy, property valuations have gone up by an amount that over what our valuations have increased. One of the nice things is we didn’t always have a Capital Outlay levy, and what I want everyone to know about this is after we started levying on the Capital Outlay, the state gave us funding. That money was significant and a good way to maximize our local efforts. This year, we’re looking at $1.2 million in state funding in our Capital Outlay fund, which is up about $147,000 from last year. And this just started in 2020, so it’s going to be a lot of revenue we can bring in against Capital Outlay.”
Newton then talked about the different aid typically used by the district.
“We also have an assessment of state aid compared to our total debt service. Last year, 77 percent of our payment was funded through state aid and this year, it’s going to be 85 percent,” Newton said. “With the budget, including General Fund state aid and the Special Education state aid, the budgeted revenue for 2023-24 is $38 million, which is an increase. Without the Special Education funding, it was an increase of only about $1.5 million, or a little more than 4 percent, a good chunk of which goes into salaries.”
Newton then gave an update on the various transfers included in the budget.
“Without transfers, we have an $89 million budget for the 2023-24 school year. We have $22 million in transfers, which means the state sends money to us, and we put it in the General Fund, and then we have to transfer it to a fund like Bilingual or Special Education or At-Risk, places like that,” Newton said. “For the General Fund, we do have a line item for reimbursements, and what that is is we get rebates on some items we purchase, and it’s miscellaneous income that comes in. Our state foundation aid is estimated at $35 million, the Special Education aid is $2.6 million. To give a bit of a breakdown of the transfers in the General Fund, a couple of these line items are mandatory, such as Special Education and At-Risk, there’s no choice but to transfer those monies. Some of these line items are a little more flexible. For example, we know ESSER funds are going to end, so we are starting to save up some money for books and other materials and services we’re going to need for when ESSER goes away.”
Newton then talked about the budget’s Supplemental General Fund.
The Supplemental General Fund is an extra General Fund, in a sense. We have some tax revenue that comes in here from Seward County and the property taxes. Our total expenditures and transfers is about 33 percent of the General Fund and this year, it’s at $12.29 million,” Newton said. “Most of this funding is used to cover our operations and maintenance, utilities, some wages and salaries, and every once in a while, bus purchases come from this fund. There are also multiple transfers in the Supplemental General Fund. We move some funds to Bilingual, At-Risk, the textbooks and student materials account, professional development, and other areas. A large part of the Supplemental General Fund goes toward operations and maintenance, and I’d like to point out we do anticipate quite a bit in utilities for this coming year.”
Newton then talked about how the federal funding will be for the 2023-24 school year.
“The federal funding is estimated at about $9.5 million, and the largest part of that is going to be the ESSER funding, and this will go up and down depending on circumstances,” Newton said. “Capital Outlay is budgeted at $8.3 million – that doesn’t mean we’re going to spend $8.3 million, it’s there just in case. We do have ESSER funding for some HVAC projects that are coming up, but if something happened and ESSER was frozen and we couldn’t pay out of ESSER, we would have to go to Capital Outlay to pay. We’re giving ourselves the authority to spend the money, we’re not saying we’ll spend all of that money. With Food Service, they’ve been doing pretty well and building up some cash, but I think this year will be the year they see some increases in pricing and wages and other factors. Other than that, I don’t think there will really be any surprises, because it’s mostly salaries and food. Another overall look at the budget, federal funds are down about 4 percent, and that’s because we spent some of the ESSER funds, and that’s not going to grow.”
The budget was ultimately unanimously approved by the board.
“I want to thank you and your staff for all your hard work, and I want to thank you for spending basically an hour on the phone with me earlier this week to clarify some of what I was looking at,” Board President Naomi Vargas said. “You all have done a great job with this.”