Danedri Thompson
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Members of the USD 231 board of education approved a 2015-2016 $266 million budget during a brief Aug. 10 meeting. Though the budget is approximately $12 million more than last year’s budget, the tax rate will likely decrease slightly.
The county appraiser’s office actually determines the exact rate when final property assessments are completed. The rate is based on the district’s budget. Officials estimate the adopted budget will result in a 68.9 mill levy rate, about 1 mill lower than last year’s tax rate of 69.711.
Under the adopted budget, the owner of a $170,000 home in the Gardner Edgerton School District will pay approximately $1,347 in school taxes next year, a savings of about $16 from the year before.
Though average property values increased slightly in USD 231 last year, Jeremy McFadden, school finance director, said that increase doesn’t account for the majority of the extra monies for the district’s budget. Approximately $10.5 million of the extra $12 million is simply a change in the way the district budget’s accounting. The state is requiring a change to the way local option budget (LOB) equalization aid and KPERs or public pensions are reported in the school’s budget.
“Those two forms of revenue are not new,” McFadden said.
However, beginning this year, the state is mandating that the school districts receive those dollars into the general fund, which looks like additional money. Prior to 2015, the money did not pass through the general fund.
“When you transfer money out of a fund that shows as an expenditure,” McFadden explained. “Roughly $10.5 million is existing revenues that are being accounted for differently. The other $1.5 million is the LOB increase voters approved by the voters and extraordinary growth funds. Those are new revenues.”
Voters gave the school board the authority to raise additional funds through local taxation via a mail election last spring. The additional budget authority coupled with an improvement in the district’s bond rating from Standard & Poors means more money will go into classrooms this year.
McFadden said thanks to the improved bond rating, the district will be able to spend less on bond and interest next year, lowering the tax rate that is needed to fund debt. The tax rate that is used for classroom spending including salaries and supplies has increased, but that rate is offset by the decrease in bond and interest.
McFadden said the budget board members approved is somewhat padded. Once a budget is approved for the year, district officials cannot spend more, but they can always spend less.
The budget, McFadden said, is simply seeking the authority to spend that much if necessary.
“Just to be safe, we make sure we have plenty in the budget in terms of spending authority, but our intent isn’t to spend all of it,” McFadden said. “We also remind people that any expenditures over $20,000 need to be board approved.”