Published Nov. 27, 2014
D181 board members at odds over
appropriate level of levy
By Ken Knutson
Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 could be facing a budget deficit as early as the 2015-16 fiscal year, according to district officials. But not all district board members believe the solution lies in maximizing the property tax levy.
“We want to get to a point where the budget is driving the levy and not the levy dictating what we spend in the budget,” said board member Glenn Yeager, echoing sentiments expressed by his colleagues.
Superintendent Don White laid out two levy scenarios at the board’s meeting Monday, one based on the 1.5 percent consumer price index and another that would capture the legally allowable maximum under state tax cap law.
The property tax increase on a home valued at $900,000 would be $41 or $124, respectively.
Superintendent Don White told board members that the 2014-15 budget was forecast to be balanced based on the tracking of revenues and expenses, then cautioned them not to get too comfortable.
“Next fiscal year, though, depending on what the CPI actually comes in at, we could be looking at a shortfall of approximately $210,000 to $320,000,” he said, reporting that the projected CPI for 2014 has dropped from 2.1 percent to between 1.7 and 1.9 percent.
Heneghan said the district will continue to fall behind financially due to guaranteed salary raises for teachers that outstrip the CPI.
He proposed establishing a fair baseline for teachers’ pay when the current contract expires in 2016 and then committing to matching costs to revenue from that point on.
“No other solution will satisfy what we’re trying to do,” Heneghan said. “Right now, if we levy to the CPI, we will always end up short.”
Board member Gary Clarin, who heads up the board’s finance committee, supports the idea of levying the maximum amount to avoid putting the district in an even more precarious position.
“I think we should try and levy as much as we can,” Clarin said. “It’s politically correct to do CPI, but ... I don’t think that’s the right thing for the school district.”
Yeager pointed out that 85 percent of the district’s costs are dictated by the teachers contract. He said failing to address that reality by altering the salary structure would is irresponsible.
“We will drive the levy based on the majority of what that (contract) cost is. If we have additional costs that we need to incur as a district, I think the first place we look is that next contract and how we negotiate it,” he said. “If we levy to the max, put the money in the pool, a lot of those hard questions and decisions are never made.”
White said he and Gary Frisch, assistant superintendent for business and operations, are working with the district’s principals on zero-based budgeting to align with the board’s direction.
A final levy recommendation will be made to the board at its Dec. 8 board meeting, and the board is expected to approve a levy amount at that time.