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School Board approves new budget

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Completion of vo-ag building allows board to downsize its budget

HARTINGTON — The Hartington-Newcastle School District is asking taxpayers for an increase of $200,590 in property taxes for their 2020-21 school budget.

In order to support the budget, the Board is asking for a three percent increase over last year’s property tax request of $5,039,550. The increase will cause the property tax levy to go from .4763 to .4913.

HNS Supt. A.J. Johnson said the increase is mostly needed to pay for more staffing and for annual wage and benefit increases.

Earlier this year the School Board approved a two percent across-the-board increase for teachers and non-certified staff.

The district also added another elementary teacher to reduce the class size in the elementary school. Another teacher was added to help expand the high school curriculum, as well.

Supt. Johnson said he would like to be able to expand occupational education and internship offerings for students. This new position should aid in that, he said.

The General Fund also has more money in it this year because of the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The General Fund in the 2019-20 budget was $7,465,570, while this year’s General Fund is $7,784,829 — a $319,259 increase.

“We anticipate spending $200,000 more than last year but the budget will show more. That is money budgeted, but not anticipated to be spent,” Johnson said. “It’s there for emergency purposes only.”

The COVID-19 pandemic made putting together this year’s budget quite a bit more challenging than in past year’s Johnson said.

“It was a little difficult putting this budget together because of all the uncertainty this year,” he said.

Johnson said he expects to see a decrease in revenue in the activity account. He anticipates crowds will be smaller at events because of concerns over the virus.

Johnson said the school is experiencing increased transportation costs and increased costs with the lunch program because of changes the District has had to make to keep students safe during the pandemic.

To further enhance social distancing, the school has already invested in several new desks to replace the two-person tables that had previously been used in many high school rooms.

He said additional cleaning supplies are also being purchased to make sure everything is sanitized properly. More staff time is also being devoted to cleaning and sanitizing.

The school also constructed two new classrooms. While the need for more classroom space was already on the list of needs, the virus made the project a necessity in order to help maintain proper social distancing.

Despite these increases, the 20-21 budget is actually down from last year’s budget. Last year, the budget was $9,015,363, while this year’s budget is $8,378,452 — a difference of $636,911.

Most of that decrease comes from the special building fund.

For years, the board was accruing funds to construct a new vocational-agriculture building. Last year, the board had $1,549,793 in its special building fund. The new budget shows that account with $554,741 in it.

Construction on that building was completed over the summer.

The audience for Monday’s public hearing consisted of one teacher and a newspaper reporter. No one from the general public appeared to hear more about the budget.

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