Property owners in the Bozeman school district should expect a small break in their school taxes in the coming year.

The local tax base is growing fast enough that taxpayers should see their school taxes go down a few dollars, Superintendent Kirk Miller told the Bozeman School Board on Monday night.

Final numbers won't be out until next week, but preliminary budget figures suggest taxes should decrease at least $4.88 for the owner of a house with a $200,000 assessed value in the Bozeman elementary district and $5.32 for the same house in the rural parts of the Bozeman high school district.

Miller said he expects the savings to be bigger once the county's new tax base numbers are released. In May, voters approved a property tax increase that will allow taxes to go up by $286,000; however, a $500,000, two-year tax to pay the costs of opening Hyalite School is expiring.

The School Board is scheduled to give the budget final approval Aug. 15.

The tough spending decisions were made last spring, the deadline for laying off teachers. The School Board agreed then to Miller's plan to invest in doubling the number of teaching coaches, from four to eight, as the best way to help classroom teachers improve student learning.

In addition, six teachers are being added in the elementary grades to keep up with growing enrollment - 154 additional students last year.

To pay for those additions, the schools will have to cut elsewhere. Spending on textbooks, for example, is being cut drastically, from more than $300,000 to $82,000.

And six jobs have been eliminated - four counselors in regular and special education, the coordinator for temporarily disabled students, the high school's half-time curriculum coordinator and a teacher for extra chemistry labs.

At Bozeman High, where enrollment has been slipping and was down another 11 students last year, some $2 million has been cut in recent years.

The budget for the coming school year calls for general-fund spending of $6,968 per student. The district has more than 5,200 students.

Miller said that at several legislative meetings, lawmakers accused Bozeman schools of spending $15,000 per student, far more than other district. Miller said that's misleading because it includes tens of millions Bozeman was spending to build the new Hyalite School and renovate Bozeman High, a level of construction no other district in state has undertaken lately.

Miller pointed out that Bozeman property owners are carrying an increasing share of the burden for local public schools as the state's share has shrunk. Back in 1993, the state covered 72 percent of the cost of operating local schools, but in the last two decades that has fallen to 55 percent. Local taxpayers have picked up the slack.

The general fund budget that pays for teacher salaries and other costs of running the schools will increase by 1.5 percent to $36.7 million.

When other budgeted funds, like busing, retirement, debt payments and building repairs, are added in, the district's budgets total $59.6 million, an increase of 2.7 percent. That includes building maintenance funds approved by voters.

When all spending is added in, the budget totals $70 million next year. That's down from $87 million the year before, when major construction projects were still under way.

Miller said the preliminary budget will be posted on the district's website, www.bsd7.org.

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