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Dickinson Public Schools to levy fewer mills: Assistant Superintendent: 'Valuation will probably eat up a lot of that savings'

Dickinson Public Schools will be obligated to levy fewer mills in the upcoming tax year, meaning a smaller share of citizen tax bills will be going to DPS, but it also means the district will have a tighter budget than it originally planned for the 2013-14 school year.

The Budget Committee, and then the School Board, were going to consider opening a new position for a social worker, but because of a lack of funding and other unknowns, it will not.

"We had intended to request the Budget Committee for an additional social worker position for next year at a cost of about $62,000," said Superintendent Doug Sullivan at a meeting of the DPS Board Budget Committee at the Central Administration Building in Dickinson on Thursday morning.

It instead tabled the issue and Sullivan made the committee aware of the need.

After the Legislature wrapped last week and all decisions were final, entities dependent on state funding were able to begin solid budget planning for the next two years.

"Our mills are going down about 48 mills at this point," said Assistant Superintendent Vince Reep. "But valuation will probably eat up a lot of that savings."

By law, school districts' budgets can only grow 12 percent from one year to the next. After state funding, last year the district pulled $7.5 million from property taxes. This year, after money from the state comes, it will pull $4.8 million, or about 57 mills.

"We can levy 60 mills of what our new taxable valuation is going to be, but not to exceed 12 percent in dollars," Reep said. "And that is where everyone was confused."

He used the dollar amount based on the growth cap to figure out the mills the district could levy, figuring 57 mills.

The school levy buy down will bring about $850 million in tax relief throughout the state, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Wednesday.

"We are actually reforming it now -- taking down the local taxation to about 60 mills and then the state will make up all of the difference necessary to get back up to what we think is a good level of funding for every student in North Dakota," he said, "which, starting out, will be about $9,000 per student."

The only way to get a higher tax from the school district would be through a vote, Dalrymple said.

He said tax relief overall and the reforms to school funding were two of the three accomplishments from the legislative session that he was most proud of.

Along with the school funding reforms were rapid enrollment grants for schools experiencing 4 percent or more growth from fall to spring.

DPS will not qualify for the grants.

"We have not grown from fall to this spring," Reep said. "Right now we've only grown by four students because we'll kick out a small senior class and bring in 260 kindergarteners -- that's where our growth will be."

DPS sees a lot of student migration -- where the number of students leaving is similar to those coming in.

Though the session is over, no numbers are officially final. DPS will put in its certificate of levy in August.

"This is the two-day-after armchair quarterbacking from Monday after the game," Committee Chairwoman Leslie Ross said.

The last-minute reformulation at the Legislature last week shrunk what the district was hoping to be a $2.1 million surplus to less than $250,000.

"When you hear about how much money we're getting, you can't look at the revenue side. You have to look at both sides," Reep said. "Because federal funds are being slashed in Title I and XVI those people that we have employed to help those kids that are remedial or have special needs, we're sucking up the remainder."

DPS has yet to complete its budget. With the variables, like the cost of health insurance or natural gas, the remaining $250,000 could disappear quickly, he said.

"We went from having some wiggle room to having very little," Reep said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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