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School budget anticipates another hit
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The budget was at the forefront of the many topics the Dawson County Board of Education discussed during its annual retreat last week.

While the 2014 fiscal year budget has not been set, it's expected to total about $32 million, which would be a drop of about $3 million from the current year's budget.

"[The] budget is going to be a major challenge," Dawson County School Superintendant Keith Porter told the gathering Feb. 27 at Robinson Elementary School. "That's due to several continuing problems. One of the challenges we're facing in the county is a declining tax digest."

The school system's local funding is determined by a millage, or property tax, rate. A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value.

The declining tax digest isn't the only stumbling block for the budget, according to Porter.

"Health insurance costs also continue to go up. We are paying $150 per month more than we did before for every classified employee," he said. "That started this year and will continue for the next three years. We also have to pay more for teacher retirement for all employees this year."

A certified employee includes teachers, nurses and administrators, whereas paraprofessionals, lunchroom staff and custodians, among others, are considered classified employees.

"The way that certified employee health insurance is calculated has changed," said Jamie Ulrich, director of finance. "It was 18.5 percent of their salary. The rate has gone to a flat $912 a month for certified personnel and $446 a month for classified personnel. Now that has gone up $25 more in this month."

Health insurance has been a growing budgetary concern for the school board.

Dawson is one of the few counties in the state that pays more than what is required for their employees' health insurance.

"We're having to look at every expenditure that we have in the system, one area being the local contribution for health insurance," Porter said.

"There is a certain amount that we, as an employer, must pay and an amount the employee pays. We provide some of the assistance to our employees above what is required."

As the board looks at the possibilities for next year, cutting back on that assistance is an option, according to Porter.

"We always have to look two and three years down the road at where our budget is going to be," he said. "Some of the decisions we make during one fiscal year certainly impacts the ending fund balance that we have to operate on for the following year.

"We're still working through how we are going to make sure we have a viable budget for FY15. We definitely are making decisions with that in mind."