AMERICAN FORK — Handling challenges such as ever-increasing enrollment and new legislative mandates, the Alpine Board of Education is preparing to approve a budget of potentially $568.4 million for the 2008-09 school year.

The board plans to vote on the budget during its meeting at 6 p.m. today at the Alpine School District office, 575 N. 100 East, American Fork.

The district's proposed budget is up from last year's budget of $526 million. The increase is mainly due to more construction projects that are under way and a rise in educator compensation, according to Alpine District business administrator Rob Smith.

"The lion's share of the increase in the budget is because of capital improvements and teacher salaries," Smith said.

The district estimates it will receive $126 million in property taxes. It will have $47.5 million in bond revenue for the upcoming school year.

Smith says the budget for 2008-2009 will be balanced.

School districts receive state funding per pupil. For 2008-2009, districts will receive $2,577 per student.

Enrollment in Alpine District for the 2007-2008 school year was 58,740. The district's enrollment is projected to grow by 1,835 to a total enrollment of 60,575 for the 2008-2009 school year.

Besides its regular enrollment, the number of charter-school students in Alpine District has also grown. For the past school year, the total of charter students was 5,020. That number is expected to increase by 630 students to 5,650 for 2008-2009.

This year, the districts will be doling out more funding to support charter students, as mandated by new state legislation. Alpine District will be spending approximately $900,000 for the charter students who live within the district boundaries.

"This has a pretty significant impact," Smith said.

The district will have a truth-in-taxation hearing on Aug. 12. During the hearing, taxpayers can voice their opinions on the proposed tax increases, which include a $1.7 million voter-approved leeway, $900,000 for charter-school funding and $850,000 in capital funding.

The tax rate is estimated at being 0.007118 and will be finalized after the district receives tax-rate verification from the county. For the owner of a $200,000 home, this means $782.98 in taxes. This is an increase of $19.91 from last year.

Having a truth-in-taxation hearing is a state requirement even though some of the tax increases have already been approved by the voters. "We need to be transparent and show why we are doing what we're doing," Smith said.

Voters in June 2006 approved Alpine District to have a $230 million bond. The district is in the second phase of spending the bond funding. Voters also approved a $1.7 million leeway.

The $850,000 in capital funding is due to the state not funding capital projects as much as it used to. New legislation has changed the formula for how districts receive this funding. This came right when Alpine District's enrollment is growing rapidly. The district took the biggest reduction in the state, Smith said.

"We took a huge hit," he said. "Our capital-projects budget this year was very difficult."

Last year Alpine District received $16.2 million from the state for capital projects, whereas this year the district will receive only $2.4 million from the state, Smith said.

"We're just holding the rate the same because of that significant loss," he said. The district plans to spend $144.3 million on teacher salaries. Last year it was $132.6 million. This includes the $1,700 teacher-salary increase from the Legislature. Also, the district hired 107 new teachers.

New district programs will take up some funding.

Summer school will take $510,000. On June 2, the district launched a pilot program at Mountain View High School in Orem and Lehi High School with 400 students at each site. Students are taking courses to either catch up or get ahead.

A program to reduce the student-to-adult ratio is $500,000. This includes hiring instructional assistants who will be trained as skilled educators. A district wellness program will cost $100,000. It is meant to implement a healthy lifestyle and reduce health-insurance costs in the long run.

Implementing a health-savings account for $853,000 will allow educators to set aside money to be used for health-related expenses when they retire.


E-mail: astewart@desnews.com