School budgets crunched, taxes on the rise
by Dennis Sharkey
If residents of eastern Jefferson County are looking for a sign of economic recovery they’re going to be disappointed when they open their next tax bill.
Across the county school boards are bumping up the local option budget in response to declining valuations and another surprise reduction from Topeka.
While preparing the budgets in June educators learned that state reimbursement rates for local option budget matches dropped from 92 percent to 83 percent. Oskaloosa USD 341 Superintendent Jon Pfau said board members had to quickly get out their calculators and start punching numbers. Although the decrease was somewhat of a surprise, Pfau expects further cuts.
“I think that will be the case until things stabilize,” Pfau said.
Taxpayers in the USD 341 will see the smallest of the increases. That board has proposed about a 0.25 mil increase for a total of 47.044 mills.
Pfau said his district lost about $300,000 in valuation for the general fund and $25,000 in valuation for the local option budget. The district has about $25.8 million of valuation.
A drop in contingency reserve funds will also be mandated by the state. Currently districts are allowed to have up to 10 percent of the general fund budget in reserves. That number will have to be lowered by next June.
One of the state’s poorest districts, Jefferson County North USD 339 will see more of an increase despite valuations going up slightly. The proposed budget has the mil levy increasing 2.412 mils to 66.994 mils.
However, a mil increase by the district only raises about $15,000 of additional funds for the district. Superintendent Denise Jennings said the mil increases were used to offset the percentage drop by the state for the local option budget.
Jennings said the district is also two years away from paying off the district’s debt service which could provide some relief to the levy. Currently the district has no plans to incur any further debt even though administrators would like to do some projects to the high school and middle school. The district will pay more than $500,000 of debt off this year.
Taxpayers in the McLouth USD 342 will still enjoy the lowest tax rates in Jefferson County if the proposed budget is approved but will see the biggest jump in the levy.
A proposed budget by the board calls for a 5.092 increase to 45.773 mils. The district has no debt and this would be an increase to the local option budget.
Jefferson County school districts will receive a kickback in reimbursement funds from Keystone Cooperative this year. The state is reimbursing special education for shortfalls last year. However, Keystone Director Dr. Tim Marshall has already told the districts to pocket the money to offset what is believed to be further decreases during the school year to base state aid.
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