Danedri Thompson
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Jeremy McFadden, school finance director, presented a budget to school board members that maintains a flat mill levy rate and balances the budget.
He stressed that school funding cuts at the state and federal level have been a challenge.
“Our costs are going up, but it gets harder and harder as our dollars don’t grow with our needs,” McFadden said.
The mill levy remains flat in the proposed budget, but some levies will increase while others decrease. For example, a special assessment levy that funds infrastructure related to new schools will increase from .457 mills to 2.005 mills. At the same time, the Local Option Budget levy will decrease maintaining the overall levy from last year – 82.595 mills.
The levy results in about $1,380 in annual school property taxes for the owner of a $150,000 home.
McFadden said that because assessed property values across the district are lower on average than they were last year, the flat budget is actually a tax decrease.
“We are levying fewer taxes,” he said. “…If we wanted to maintain our tax revenues, we would have to raise our mill levy.”
Superintendent Bill Gilhaus said there are a few things he would like patrons to understand about next year’s proposed budget. In addition to state funding cuts over the last several years, he said the district has lost federal stimulus funds as well.
“Nobody likes our taxes going up. This community has supported a $72 million bond. We had a reduction in state funding. We had lower assessed values. We lost federal funding,” he said. “When you put all that together, (the proposed budget) is an amazing accomplishment.”
Board member Mark Grannell said the budget cutfalls largely affect staff members.
“We’ve had to burden our staff and our teachers,” he explained.
Class sizes next year will increase. Last year, the district goal was classes no bigger than 20 students – plus grade level. For example, the largest fourth grade classroom would house 24 students.
Next year, the district intends to cap class sizes at 23 students per classroom plus grade level.
“Our class sizes are going up,” Grannell said. “That’s the flip side of this. Sooner or later, it’s going to have a price that we’re all going to have to pay.”
Board members must still host a budget hearing and approve a final budget that must be delivered to the state by Aug. 25.
In other business, the board:
• approved the purchase of an $85,000 of playground equipment for Gardner Elementary School. The equipment will not be constructed in time for the first day of school, but officials hope to put it in as soon as possible.
• approved the expenditure of no more than $300,000 to pay excise taxes to the city of Gardner related to the new school campus.
• recognized Wheatridge Middle School’s Heath Sigg for winning Principal of the Year.
• recognized the efforts of Gardner Edgerton High School wrestling coach Matt Yeamans and the wrestling team.