MA budget reflects tough choices
BY STACI WILSON
The Montrose school board adopted a nearly $25 million budget on Monday, June 30 – the last day allowable by state law – and raised taxes in the district by just over one mill.
The tax rate was set at 46.7615 mills – up from 43.5 mills in 2013-14. Like many other local school districts, the Montrose board opted to use the maximum allowable increase utilizing the state funding index.
But district property owners receiving the homestead/farmstead exclusion will see their tax bills reduced by about $350.
Board President Chris Caterson this is the second time in nine years the school district raised taxes – adding that none of the board members were happy about the need to do so.
He also addressed the district’s “nuisance taxes” – the per capita and occupation taxes – leveled by the district. Taxes people often ask the board to do away with.
Caterson said the district realizes about $100,000 from those. “Now is not the time to cut any of that,” he said.
Superintendent Carol Boyce said the budget process began in December 2013 with the business office collecting and prioritizing the needs and wants in the district.
She said, “Sometimes our needs are greater than our ability to afford them.”
Board Finance Chair Kristen Follert said the group faced tough budget decisions with options to raise taxes or make cuts to equipment replacements, staffing and technology.
Follert said a “huge chunk” of funding was taken from the technology budget.
She also said that most of the retired staff would not be replaced.
Follert said the district is not receiving enough state revenue to keep up with the increased expenses, including the mandated state pension fund contribution.
But she added, the board’s priority was to keep programming in place for students.
With the necessary increased contributions to the PSERS, the district set aside a signing bonus from its natural gas lease to offset those costs. The board approved the utilization of $234,237 from the committed fund to address the pension costs in the 2014-15 budget.
Boyce said that as the money in the committed fund decreases, the pension costs will make it “tighter to afford.”
Board member Richard Jordan said that the designated fund set up for the rising pension costs would be quickly depleted. He warned of the need for serious cuts to the budget next year if the state did not come through with some help on pension reform.
Boyce complimented the rest of the administrative team. “They do the best for the kids within the realm of financial possibility,” Boyce said.
High School Principal Michael Bocella said, “Anything we could do without was cut long ago.” He described the situation as “less than ideal.”
As a part of the budget process, some teaching transfers were made with principal’s recommendation.
Position transfers announced at Monday’s meeting were:
Kim Fruehan, fourth to sixth grade, Choconut; Ryan Soden, sixth to first grade, Choconut; Christine Casey, fifth to fourth, Choconut; Alicia Nolt, second to first, Choconut; Nicole LaBarre, first to second, Choconut; Jessie Blaney, first to kindergarten, Choconut; Nicole Russell, kindergarten Choconut to kindergarten Lathrop; Diana Huff, third to second, Lathrop; Jenna Castellani, second to third, Lathrop; Tracie McComb, sixth to fourth, Lathrop; Heather Considine, third to sixth, Lathrop; Anne Lathrop, Title 1 to third, Lathrop; Leslie Hoal, fourth to title 1, Lathrop; April Jones, first to fourth, Lathrop; Robyn Lubash, kindergarten to first, Lathrop.
The board also approved the operation of a Summer Day Camp at Choconut Valley to be held for five weeks, Monday – Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., starting on July 7 and running through August 7. The camp is funded primarily with Title 1 funds with $10,000 coming from the general fund.
Caterson said that the camp had been a successful program but one that “could have been on the chopping block.” Some additional Title 1 monies receive by the district provided the necessary funding to provide the program.
The board of directors will not hold a business meeting in July. The next business meeting will be held Monday, Aug.11 at Choconut Valley Elementary.