School Board Pinches Pennies to Stretch Dollars

BROKEN BOW – It’s tough to talk about money. It’s doubly tough when the money isn’t yours, and triply tough when the money-not-yours takes all the fingers of Custer County, and then some, to tally.

We should count our blessings, then, for the Broken Bow School Board. Budget season is bearing down on Bow, and thanks to the ongoing efforts of J.B. Atkins, school board treasurer, not a cent will be left unstacked. There is an important difference, Atkins says, between the “budget,” and what is referred to as a “tax ask.”

“Our ‘tax ask’ is what you really need to focus on. The ‘budget’ does not necessarily mean that’s what your tax ask is; the budget is what we’re allowed to spend. So when you set a budget, that’s the most we can spend.”

The tax ask for the operating budget is comprised of 80-85% of local taxes; the remaining 15 or so percent comes from federal and state money. Historically, the state had been a larger donor to the Broken Bow School District but has dropped its contributions from roughly $2 million in 2015 to about $100,000 in 2022.

The 2022-23 school year marks the first time in several years the school district’s budget may increase through a tax ask, Atkins says, which has remained since 2016 at a steady $10.99 million for the entire year.

Superintendent Darren Tobey explains that increasing the school’s budget is not merely a technique to fill the school’s coffers, but an integral part of a bigger picture.

“We have a plan. We’re not taking extra funds that we don’t need and stockpiling them. The funds that we do have we’ll take from our general fund, those all have plans. They’re all earmarked for a bus down the line, vehicles down the line, curriculum purchases, computers, those types of things that we’ve planned out as a board.”

Atkins points to the school board’s historic reluctance to move the  budget even an inch. “Since I’ve been on the board, we’ve basically left the budget the same.” This is a remarkable feat, Atkins insists, considering the consistent academic and extracurricular strides the Broken Bow School District has made in that time.

“The school’s performed well; test scores have improved every year since Mr. Tobey took over. We’ve not done this at the expense of education. I think there were concerns when we started down this road that it might come at the expense of education, or expense of extracurricular activities, but we’ve enjoyed tremendous success at almost all levels.”

Tobey concurs. “It’s a constant balance. Our academics, our kids, and our staff are our number one priority, taking care of them but yet being financially in a good place and do what’s best for our community as well. I feel like we have a really good plan and I think the results speak for themselves.”

Nothing regarding the school’s budget has been finalized yet; the board has held a public budget hearing every year, and this year will be no exception. This year’s hearing is expected to occur in September, with the next regular board meeting scheduled for Monday, August 15.

The full interview can be heard below.