Unanimous vote at annual meeting supports plan that calls for holding line on levy for district’s 2014-15 spending
Responding favorably to cost-cutting steps taken this summer by the School Board, Grafton School District residents on Monday approved the levy for a 2014-15 budget that calls for no increase in the tax rate.
The 24-0 vote at the annual meeting came after school officials presented a spending package that includes $22.9 million in general-fund expenditures, a $338,000 decrease from the current school year but still higher than $22.6 million in projected revenue.
A total levy of $17.2 million is required to support 2014-15 spending, down $19,000 from 2013-14. The projected tax rate of $12.02 per $1,000 of assessed valuation is one cent less than the 2013-14 rate.
Based on the new rate, the owner of a $300,000 house would pay $3,605 in school taxes, a decrease of $3.99.
Business Services Manager Kristin Sobocinski said the budget is based on several projections that cannot be finalized for several weeks, including state aid figures, student enrollment and the district’s equalized property valuation.
Sobocinski said the district anticipates a decrease of $144,000 in state equalized aid, which is based on per-pupil expenditures, enrollment and property valuation. Helping to minimize that loss is the start of a 4-year-old kindergarten program this fall that has added 100 students and brings the projected enrollment to 2,193.
The flat tax rate, Sobocinski said, is based on no increase in equalized valuation, which was $1.43 billion for the 2013-14 budget. Any increase in the final valuation figure would mean a lower tax rate, while a valuation decrease would mean a higher tax rate.
After a prolonged period of annual valuation increases, including an 8.8% hike in 2006-07, the district has had decreases in four of the last five years. That might change this fall, Sobocinski believes.
“I have gotten reports that there may be an increase in value,” she said.
This summer, the board began taking aim at a projected $850,000 deficit in the 2014-15 budget with a combination of staff reductions, pared benefits and increased insurance premium contributions for employees and other spending cuts.
The cuts, which included reconfiguring bus routes and tabling buildings and grounds upgrades, totaled $1.3 million. However, that figure was pared to $443,000 due to added costs, including learning-based compensation for teachers who participate in training programs, a half-time coordinator for the gifted and talented program and new math and science curriculum and computer software.
When the board approved a preliminary spending plan in June, Supt. Mel Lightner called the budget “the toughest I’ve ever had in my 20 years as a superintendent of schools.”
Last year, residents gave thumbs up to a budget that included an 8.7% tax rate increase.
Residents had few comments during Monday’s meeting. However, several parents criticized the reconfigured bus routes for elementary schools, saying their children are spending more time on buses than expected, including 45-minute rides home.
Shortening riding times by consolidating routes had been promised by the district, the parents said.
Lightner said he will continue to work with Go Riteway, which provides the bus service, to resolve transportation issues. Changes could include adding another bus route for Woodview School, which currently has only two, he said.
The board retains the power to finalize the budget, which is expected to be done Oct. 27.
In their other vote, residents unanimously approved board members’ salaries with no increases for the 2014-15 year. The president, vice president, clerk and treasurer will again be paid $1,450, with other members receiving $1,350.