MANCHESTER – The public will soon get a chance to see how the school district builds its budget.
The Manchester school district will hold budget workshops at 6 p.m. on February 22 and 23 at the Ridgeway Elementary School media center.
Business Administrator Craig Lorentzen said different departments will give presentations over the two nights, giving the board, administration and public a “snapshot look” into the 2017-18 school budget. It’s an incomplete picture, as state aid figures have yet to be released. School officials expect state aid to remain flat or dip, they said.
The district received $50,000 more from the state than usual last year, but was still $1 million short of its 2009-10 state aid. State aid accounts for 10 percent and federal aid 2 percent of the total budget. More than 80 percent of the district’s $55.71 million budget is raised through local taxes.
The 2015-16 budget stayed $179 per student below the state average on per-pupil spending, $14,557 to the state’s $14,736 according to final 2014-15 statistics. That gap widened last year, with Manchester spending $201 less per pupil than the state average, $15,095 compared with $15,296, while keeping staff and services intact.
Each of the district’s six schools will likely present its budget wish list one night, while other departments such as buildings and grounds and technology, among others, will give their budget presentations the following night. It’s a chance for the administration and board to gut or expand proposals before sending the overall proposed budget to the county superintendent in mid-March for approval.
District officials told The Manchester Times they do not anticipate cutting any staff or programs, and may expand course choices at the high school. However, they were reluctant to say much more before having state aid figures and school and department requests.
Board president Donald Webster Jr. said districts must stay within a state-mandated 2 percent cap on raising taxes, which only gives the school about $1 million to work with. The cap was lowered from 4 percent to 2 percent in 2010.
The state mandates many budget items, such as pension contributions and health care costs. The district must also honor the contract determining staffs’ salaries. The district does look for savings where it can, Lorentzen said, saving nearly $5 million through cooperative agreements with the township, other school districts, and energy and other cost-saving programs. The district also relies upon donations from the PTA, Educational Foundation, “Donors Choose,” and fundraisers to help defray costs.
Officials said they are watching what happens in Washington, DC, expecting cuts in federal aid in programs that are already underfunded.