Sunday, March 7, 2021

Columbia school board prepares 2021-22 budget with no tax increase

The board reviewed a preview of its general fund budget for the 2021-22 school year with no tax increase.

Overview: The school district's real estate tax rate is set at 26.46 mills. Taxpayers with an average assessed property would pay $2,470 in taxes. Overall, the district estimates revenues of $26.56 million, up 1.49% from 2020-21, and predicts $27.43 million in expenses, up 1.11% from the current year.

Expenses: The $300,782 rise in expenses is attributed to a $420,000 increase in cyber charter tuition. The district will also seek to hire new technology and autistic support teachers and fill six other vacant positions. District reserves would be used to cover an estimated $878,982 deficit between revenues and expenses.

What's next: The board expects to adopt a proposed final budget in May and a final budget in June.

Federal aid: The school district will receive $2.38 million in additional federal grant funds to assist with coronavirus-related expenses. This financial aid, according to chief of finance and operations Keith Ramsey, must be spent by Sept. 30, 2023. To date, the district has received $2.97 million in federal aid related to COVID-19.

Cyber charter school reform: Last month, the board adopted a resolution calling for reforms to the current cyber-charter funding formula. The district initially expected to spend $1.5 million on tuition to enroll 70 standard and 26 special education students in cyber charter schools in 2021-22. However, Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed measures to reform charter school funding that would cap tuition rates for standard students at $9,500 a learner, down 14.63% or $1,629 from initial district estimates. If approved, the district would save roughly $414,030 on tuition costs as of next school year, Ramsey said. 

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