Challenging, but exciting. That's how USD 373 Director of Business Services Matt Morford described the budgeting process this year — as the extended State Legislative session delayed the release of budgeting software for Kansas school districts.

With that delay, a normally six to eight week project had to be completed in one week, but Morford got it done — presenting the proposed 2018 budget to the Newton school board this week.

Ultimately, Senate Bill 19 was adopted at the end of this year's lengthy session and that brings a number of changes to the budget outside of the condensed schedule. While still awaiting a Supreme Court decision on the legislation, districts are moving forward with the shift back to a formula-based funding mechanism (rather than a block grant). That shift will bring about an increase in base funding per pupil from $3,852 to $4,006.

Additionally, Morford noted "gone are the guesstimates or projections" regarding enrollment, as districts will now use the higher of the previous two years' full-time equivalency numbers, though weightings will be used based off the current school year. Also under SB 19, all-day kindergarten is fully funded and there will be less money flowing through districts' general funds.

For Newton specifically, the new funding formula will mean an increase in general fund state aid of nearly $1 million (based on estimated weightings, according to Morford), while it will also increase the local option budget authority — though there will be a decrease in LOB state aid of $131,320.

In order to utilize the increased LOB authority, Morford said there would be a proposed 1.124 mill increase for that fund, but to balance that out the capital outlay mill levy would be reduced by 1.1 mills. With that shift, the total mills levied for USD 373 would actually decrease from 54.081 to 54.065. As the taxing authority of the Newton Rec Commission (which is planning an increase) are also tied to the district, though, the grand total would go up slightly, from 62.786 mills to 63.044 mills.

Taking those changes into account, Morford proposed a final budget of $49,405,656 for USD 373 in 2018 — listing the maximum amount to be spent in each fund for a reason.

"By publishing to spend everything, we have the authority to do so," Morford said.

Doing so, with the proposed budget numbers, would also allow for a three percent increase in pay to both certified and classified staff for the 2017-2018 school year — though it was noted that is pending ratification, as contract negotiations are not complete yet. Based on current projections, Morford pointed out that salaries and benefits account for 74 percent of total budgetary costs and 83 percent of costs in the combined general and LOB funds.

Most of the numbers, outside of the state aid increases, are pretty consistent with the three-year averages for the district, Morford said. While enrollment did see an increase in about 100 students, Morford credited that to the fact that kindergarten students will now be counted as full-time equivalency (instead of half).

Part of the reason behind allowing for maximum authority, Morford said, is planning for contingency in some funds — like special education. Board members questioned why there was so much carryover in that fund, which Morford noted was because the state aid payment is not received until September and federal funds do not come in until October.

That SPED carryover, administration noted, helps keeps the funds afloat and meet the needs of those students as they arise.

"Every year, it seems like we have a student or more who comes to us who we didn't know about," said superintendent Deb Hamm.

Other changes addressed in the budget looked at personnel needs, with the proposed plan allowing for the hiring of an additional kindergarten teacher — as only seven slots were open for students when initial headcounts were done (and administration wanted to alleviate the stress of maxing out class sizes).

Future personnel needs could also start to be addressed through the 2018 budget, as Hamm noted the district is looking into adding additional instructional aides, counseling positions and the potential to offer a more robust selection of electives at the middle school level.

While there were questions from the board regarding what chunk of the budget would be dedicated to the potential bond project, Hamm assured the impact of that issue would not be felt until next year's budget.

After approval for publication, the district will now hold a public hearing at the start of its meeting on Aug. 21 before final action is taken.