Board OKs preliminary budget that holds line on levy by paring deficit originally projected at $850,000
Buoyed by cost-cutting steps that pared a projected $850,000 deficit, the Grafton School Board on Monday approved a preliminary budget that calls for no increase in the tax rate for the 2014-15 year.
The board’s unanimous vote followed a presentation by Supt. Mel Lightner, who said he worked hard with Business Services Director Kristin Kollath and other administrators to offset the deficit forecast when budget preparations began last fall.
“In my 20 years as a superintendent of schools, this is the toughest budget I’ve ever had,” Lightner told the board.
“In the last five months, we’ve worked thought budget cuts, which can be very painful. We’ve had to make some tough decisions.”
In response to the deficit, an administrative committee recommended a combination of increased insurance premium contributions and trimmed benefits for employees, staff reductions and other spending cuts.
Kollath said the projected deficit was based on a reduction in general state aid and increases in insurance and other operating costs.
“Our revenue is going down, primarily because of declining enrollment,” she said.
The preliminary budget includes $22.9 million in general-fund expenditures, a $637,000 decrease from the current school year but still higher than $22.6 million in projected general-fund revenue. Included in the revenue total is an expected loss of $186,000 in general state aid, Kollath said.
The district plans to use a portion of its general-fund balance to offset a shortfall of $292,685.
The preliminary budget calls for a total levy of $17.2 million, 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 $250,000 house would pay $3,004 in school taxes, a decrease of $3.33.
Kollath said the spending plan is based on several projections that cannot be finalized until fall. Those include the cut in state aid, an expected 100 students in the district’s inaugural 4-year-old kindergarten program, no change in other enrollment levels and no increase in equalized property valuation.
In April, the board accepted a draft of the preliminary budget that called for cutting the equivalent of 3.6 full-time staff positions. Lightner said that number was trimmed to one full-time position through personnel and scheduling changes, including retirements and resignations.
Several teachers and residents at Monday’s meeting complained about the board’s decision to lay off one of its three full-time reading specialists for elementary schools, a cost-cutting move they said would place students at risk.
Board members said they weighed their options carefully before make the decision, opting to hire three part-time reading interventionists to offset the loss of the specialist. The interventionists will work with students at each of the three elementary schools.
“We were required to make difficult decisions. This is one that we had to make,” Board Treasurer Paul Lorge said.
Board member Clayton Riddle said he supports the cut even though he has a child with special reading needs.
“This directly affects my family, but I voted for it because I don’t think there will be any drop-off in the quality of the program,” Riddle said.
“It’s the best use of personnel under the constraints we faced.”
Approving a preliminary budget is the first in an ongoing fiscal challenge the district will face, according to Lightner. Continuing cuts in state aid for public education has exacerbated the problem, he noted.
“The funding of public education is a huge problem,” Lightner said. “In the future, we may have to go to referendum just to sustain our operation.”