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Aurora district set to approve bigger budget, filled with more detail for the public

The Aurora school board will vote later this month on a proposed $869.2 million budget for next school year.

The proposed budget, which represents an 8.4% increase over the current year’s budget, includes salary increases for employees and funding for after-school programs that the district proposed with an increased local tax voters approved in November.

The 2019-20 budget document is significantly longer than last year’s as a result of more detail added after some board members had questioned the district’s transparency with the level of detail that was being provided to the public.

As an example, Aurora school budgets in the document now include up to five times as many line items for spending, including detail on budgets for school nurses, administration, and physical education.

“I really appreciate the fact that you listened and really made an effort,” board member Kayla Armstrong Romero told staff at a board meeting. “Other people see that as well.”

The district purchased a new budget program called Questica that allows the district to easily publish and track more detail from the budget.

Although the district’s continued drop in enrollment is expected to cost it $6.3 million in student-based state revenue next year, the district’s budget is growing.. The increased revenues are in large part a result of the voter approved mill levy override from November, but also due to increased per-student state allocations, added funding for kindergartners, and a rise in local property values.

This current year’s readopted budget, after the approval of the local tax increase, was $829 million.

As far as how the money will be spent, the largest chunk will go toward salary increases for teachers and other educators.

The district and union recently agreed to give all teachers and licensed educators a 2.05% increase. In addition, some will recover a raise they didn’t get in 2016. Other employees, such as bus drivers and custodians, will get a 3.9% increase.

The district also will set aside half a million dollars to increase pay for substitute teachers, for the first time in several years. The daily pay for substitute teachers will be $106 next year — up from $100.

The budget also includes $5 million for after-school programs that will start this fall, and $9.2 million for more mental health support, to include “dozens” of staff positions the district is posting.

Moving forward, Chief Financial Officer Brett Johnson said he would like to explore ways to improve the budget document to provide more information to the public. One idea might be to ask principals to describe what is happening in their school. Such notes might give context as to why a budget prioritizes spending in certain areas and could also give more insight into the workings of a school, he said.

“There is room to give more color and information about a school, not just related to what the dollars are spent on,” Johnson said. “A school isn’t just dollars and cents.”

Armstrong Romero said she hopes this change helps engage more of the public.

“I would like to see more community members be involved and to know where their money is going,” Armstrong Romero said. “You should know how your money is being spent. It’s important — not just when things hit the fan.”

Read the district’s proposed budget document here.

The post Aurora district set to approve bigger budget, filled with more detail for the public appeared first on Chalkbeat.

This story was originally published on https://www.chalkbeat.org/

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