School board to keep special levy rate at last year
The Morgan County School Board's financial future crystallized at the 11th hour last week. The five-member board voted unanimously to keep their special levy rate at 85% while funding a growing school budget.
The levy vote took place Thursday, March 20 after a Wednesday night budget workshop. Board member Larry Omps was absent from the vote.
At the 85% rate, the school board will bring in $4.46 million of local money under the special levy.
The special levy is the locally-controlled tax that pays for teacher salary supplements, additional supplies and contributions to community groups like Parks & Recreation.
For owner-occupied homes, the special levy costs 19.5 cents for each $100 of assessed value. An owner-occupied home worth $200,000 will cost a homeowner $234.12 in special levy taxes, on top of the regular school levy, county and any town taxes.
Same rate, more money
Without raising their levy rate, the school board will still see $217,000 more in special levy revenue, due to rising property values.
The board would have had to drop the levy rate to 81% in order to keep local school tax income from rising this year.
The board also expects to receive $4.3 million in local money from the regular school levy. That's an increase of $407,573 over last year. The State Legislature sets the regular levy rate.
In all, local taxpayers will directly contribute $8.8 million to the Morgan County school system, supplying a third of the school board's $26,640,168 budget for the next fiscal year.
New state aid formula
School officials spent most of last week's budget sessions honed in on a new formula that will change how much state aid the state Department of Education sends to individual counties.
That formula was passed by the Legislature this month, but has school treasurers around the state scrambling for answers about next year's budget, said County Schools Treasurer Nancy White.
White did her best to summarize for board members how the law will affect local schools. She said the state is still figuring out how to interpret the law.
At bottom, HB 4588 will calculate school aid based on the actual number of students in a school system, rather than an enrollment number inflated to reflect a county's special education student population.
While Morgan County is in line to receive more than $380,000 in additional state aid under the new formula, new money from HB 4588 will be phased in over five years. White said Morgan County will only see $76,507 this year in extra state aid.
In all, Morgan County Schools will get $11.7 million in state aid this coming year.
Between last Wednesday's budget session and Thursday's levy vote, White adjusted the school budget to cover a $246,000 shortfall between revenue and expenses.
White said she studied the budget to cut expenses and find revenue to balance the budget for 2008-2009.
I did a little bit of both, she said.
White okayed transferring $150,000 out of the Capital Improvement Fund into the general budget, while also cutting back on projected expenses for a new storage facility, textbook replacement, general supplies and contracted services.
This year, we may need to have a budget workshop mid-year to see where we are, said Board President Laura Smith, referring to the tight financial balance of the school system.
According to White, the top expenditure for Morgan County Schools is salaries and benefits for the system's 360 employees. Personnel costs account for $17.8 million, or 80% of the school budget.
Far behind are expenses for contracted services like speech therapy and counseling ($1 million), administrative expenses ($771,000), utilities ($709,000), maintenance and operations ($549,000) and instructional materials ($416,890).
Items that the school board kept out of the 2009 budget were new technology tools, additional mental health services, a local salary increase, capital projects and next summer's Energy Express program.
Tough time for taxes
County resident Ed George spoke up at Thursday's levy meeting, asking school officials not to raise property taxes on local homeowners any further.
Slash where you can. If this goes on, it will bring me to my knees, George said of rising taxes in Morgan County.
Board member Margaret Gordon assured George that school officials took their financial responsibilities seriously.
We are guardians of the taxpayers' money. It's not our money. This isn't the year to go throwing money around. People are really hurting, Gordon said.
School officials also talked about the tightrope they are walking, since the special levy is up for renewal by local voters later this year.
Board members hope their consideration of taxpayers' pains will pay off when they ask voters to pass a new school levy later in 2008.
We're going to be asking voters to vote for a levy that's been in place for 50 years, White said.
Superintendent David Banks noted that renewing the special levy would be vital to attracting and retaining new teachers at a time when surrounding areas offer pay far higher than Morgan County's $32,000 starting salary.