Members of the Alpine School District Board of Education were shocked Tuesday evening when board member Wendy Hart proposed the district create an alternative budget that would reject federal funding moments before the board anticipated voting on a budget.
Hart made the substitute motion after the public hearing for the tentative fiscal 2016-2017 budget closed. Her motion was to approve the budget, but with the caveat that the district’s business services department propose an alternative budget by September or October that would not include federal funding. She said the motion didn’t mean the board would have to approve the alternative budget, but that one would be made.
“I would like us to feel like we are not a slave to federal dollars,” Hart said.
The substitute motion failed.
Hart, Paula Hill and Brian Halladay, the three who voted in favor of it, are the same three board members who last month sent a letter to state leaders opposing a letter from the Obama administration stating that schools must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities or risk losing federal funding.
Halladay cited that letter, along with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama, as a reason to create an alternative budget.
“I think with the recent federal mandates that have come down, I think we have an obligation to our taxpayers to engage in those discussions,” Halladay said.
In order to make up for the $40 million in federal funding that would be rejected, Assistant Superintendent Rob Smith said there would have to be a 27 percent increase in taxes, if collection rates stay the same, but it still wouldn’t be enough.
By maxing out how much the board could increase the tax levy, between what the district can do without sending it out for a vote, and if voters approved a separate tax increase, the average homeowner would see a $300 a year increase in taxes and the district would still be about $20 million short of what it would need to cover the loss in federal funding.
Board members expressed anger that the motion wasn’t brought up in a study session and instead mentioned before the board intended to vote, but said they weren’t opposed to having the discussion.
“I feel like the approval of the tentative budget is not the appropriate place for it the way it has been presented,” said Deborah Taylor, a board member.
Jodee Sundberg, a member of the board, said she didn’t like the idea of the district rejecting tax dollars residents have paid.
“Our dollars go to the federal government for education funding; I do not want to send dollars to the federal government and say, ‘Don’t send them back,’” Sundberg said.
Hill said if the district did some things itself instead of having the federal government do it, it would cost less.
“I am very confident there is a lot of expense in complying with the federal regulations,” she said.
The board passed the original tentative budget, with Halladay and Hart voting against it.
The total expenditures expected in the fiscal 2016-2017 budget are $493,086,194, up about $17 million from last year.