Unlike the recent years of the recession, most Utah school districts are no longer facing deep cuts as they come up with budgets for next school year. But they're not exactly flush with cash, either, as they face the impending costs of health care reform and the threat of continued sequestration.
Lawmakers voted this year to increase per pupil spending by 2 percent, but in many cases, much of that increase will go toward covering rising health insurance and retirement costs.
By January 2014, employers with more than 50 workers must offer health insurance to those working 30 or more hours a week. Districts must decide whether to reduce some part-time employees' hours or take on the costs of offering them coverage.
And under sequestration, Utah school districts are slated to lose millions in federal Title I money, which goes to high-poverty schools, and special education funding.
Parents and taxpayers can weigh in on budget decisions which could affect everything from class size to taxes to teachers as districts hold public meetings this month and into June. Budgets are finalized in late June.
Granite District • To deal with the Affordable Care Act, the district has already told hundreds of classified employees, such as bus drivers and teacher aides, that they will have to work 29 hours a week instead of 30.
The 67,600-student district is still anticipating a possible shortfall of about $380,000, an amount that could change depending on negotiations with unions for teachers and classified employees, said Ben Horsley, district spokesman.
Increasing maintenance, operations and retirement costs are creating the shortfall, he said, a relatively small amount compared with the district's overall operating budget this school year of $440 million.
Horsley said the school board is looking at proposed solutions, so far discussed in closed session. "The end goal in any sort of budget situation is to impact the classroom to the least extent possible," he said.
Sequestration won't likely affect Granite's Title I schools because of the district's conservative spending in recent years and because the state's waiver to No Child Left Behind will free up money previously reserved for certain programs, said Rob Averett, Granite director of resource development.
The board might discuss the budget at its next meeting, set for May 7, and will take a preliminary vote in June, Horsley said.
Canyons District • The Canyons District is not expecting any shortfalls, said Keith Bradford, Canyons business administrator, noting that negotiations are still underway with its teachers and classified employee unions.
The 2 percent increase in per pupil spending from lawmakers means about $2.5 million more next year for the district, which serves more than 33,000 students, he said.
While the district will see its retirement costs increase by about $1.9 million, Bradford said, it expects to save dollars on salaries because it offered an early retirement incentive to employees this year.
The district plans to handle sequestration by leaving some vacant positions open and using leftover federal funds, he said.
The board will likely discuss the budget in a study session May 7 and then vote at its June 18 meeting.
Salt Lake District • Spokesman Jason Olsen said the district expects to have about $950,000 less for special education, while officials are still calculating the new health care impact. School officials and board members are meeting in small groups this week to "decide how to handle that potential loss and other budget matters," Olsen wrote in an email.
He added the school board will discuss the budget at meetings on May 7 and May 21, then vote on June 4.
Jordan District • Officials expect to balance their budget in the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The district serves about 52,000 students.
"There's always more programs we want than we have funding for," District spokesman Steve Dunham said. "(But there will be) no major cuts."
He pointed out that officials have factored in $800,000 in extra health insurance costs since the 2011-2012 school year. They estimate $50,000 in additional costs in 2013-14 and $400,000 to $450,000 in 2014-15.
"The board will be working on policies and procedures to deal with it (so the figure could change)," Dunham said.
Davis District • All of the additional $8.8 million the Davis School District received for its 2013-14 budget will be spent on the increased costs of retirement and health insurance and to deal with sequestration, said spokesman Christopher Williams.
"Retirement costs take 1.2 percent of the 2 percent increase approved by legislators," he wrote in an email.
The state's second largest district, with 68,350 students, Davis also faces cuts in federal Title 1 and special education funding. When services, such as special education, are mandated, the district must make up those costs, Williams said.
Negotiations with unions for teachers and classified employees are underway, he added. "At this point, we're still trying to make ends meet."
Tooele District • Tooele is millions of dollars in debt due to bonds, which it's now struggling to pay off because of reduced funding from the state, said Lark Reynolds, Tooele business administrator.
While the district projects a possible shortfall in the millions for this school year, it's too early to say if there will be shortfall next school year, he said.
For now, the district has enough in reserve to cover bond payments, but possible longer term solutions include putting another bond before voters or raising taxes, Lark said.
Leaders are exploring whether to cut some employees' hours or extend the required health coverage to more employees. Title I school programs and special education may face cuts because the district expects to lose federal dollars though sequestration.
Reynolds said the 14,000-student district's maintenance and operations budget is typically around $80 million. The Tooele board will vote on a budget for next school year on June 18.
Alpine District • The state's largest school district does not expect to cut programs because of any shortfalls, said Rhonda Bromley, district spokeswoman. But the board might discuss, at its May 14 study session, the possibility of raising taxes to recoup some money that it, like other districts, must contribute toward charter schools.
At a meeting next week, the district expects to decide whether to limit part-time employees to 27.5 hours a week.
Alpine is still considering options for dealing with sequestration losses. The board for the nearly 71,000-student district will officially vote on its budget on June 18. It's maintenance and operating budget is typically about $360 million.