The Ottumwa Courier

February 27, 2013

Public hearing on E-B-F budget March 18

District planning for zero percent allowable growth

Courier correspondent

EDDYVILLE — Eddyville-Blakesburg- Fremont school district patrons could see a property tax decrease in the near future. However, with zero percent allowable growth and a special education fund deficit, the district budget is looking pretty bleak.

Depending on where state legislators set allowable growth rates, property taxes will decrease somewhere between 44 and 56 cents per $1,000 in property valuation. Budget cuts haven’t been approved yet, but as many as 20 people could lose their jobs and more could see a reduction in time.

To meet state deadlines, school districts must move forward with planning and publishing budgets even though they don’t know for sure if allowable growth will be zero, two or four percent. 

E-B-F’s board will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. March 18 to consider a budget with a zero percent allowable growth rate. At that rate, property taxes will be set at about $10.18 per 1,000 valuation, a 56 cent decrease over the current $10.74 per $1,000 valuation.

However, board member, David Friedman wants patrons to know that this figure can be amended by the state if a 2 or 4 percent allowable growth rate is approved. This could push the tax rate up to $10.24 or $10.30 per $1,000 valuation.

Prior to the E-B-F merger, taxes were considerably higher at $12.16 per $1,000 valuation for Eddyville-Blakesburg and $16.97 per $1,000 valuation for Fremont.

Districtwide, property valuation increased by nearly $12 million, which helps. However, with the merger, the district has seen quite a hit with a loss in supplemental funds for sharing. The district also saw an increase in enrollment this year, so it does not qualify for the budget guarantee.

Superintendent Dean Cook told board members that the district solvency ratio is actually pretty good at 31 percent. The solvency ratio is a measure of the district’s general fund financial health. In fact, Cook noted that the district carried over nearly $3 million this month.

However, there is a big difference between cash in the bank and having the authority to spend it. At a zero percent allowable growth, the district is not allowed to spend as much as it would at 2 or 4 percent. This, combined with a special education deficit, led Cook to recommend several cuts.

“I’m going to have to make some tough decisions,” he said. “We’re not going to see big-time expenditures for a while. Our one-cent sales tax fund is in the hole right now.”

In addition, the district has been overspending on special education. Both state and federal governments provide funds to schools for students based on their individualized education plans. School districts enter into contracts with employees to meet these plans; however, the formula to determine funding is based on past experience, and as situations change as students change, the amount actually needed may change, creating a deficit, which is common in schools.

Usually districts apply for allowable growth to cover the special education deficit. However, the state’s School Budget Review Committee has started taking a closer look at these requests, forcing districts to take a closer look as well.

E-B-F submitted its budget to the local Area Education Agency, which suggested the district is staff heavy in the special education department. The program should be the least-restrictive possible and only provide one on one para-educators. Cuts have been recommended to get in line with special education revenues received.

Cook recommended that the board cut one special education teacher and 12 para-educators to eliminate the special education deficit.  

“Those cuts, I’m going to be pretty adamant about,” Cook said of cutting 13 employees as well as reducing days worked by three secretaries to 196 days.

That first round of cuts totals $245,202.87.  However, Friedman took issue with this, saying the amount greatly exceeds the deficit and goes beyond what is necessary.

However, Cook recommended an additional $281,034.57 in cuts to offset zero percent allowable growth and keep the schools Unspent Authorized Budget from dropping too far.

“If nothing happens to increase allowable growth, there will be a sequestration of funds,” Cook said.

Additional cuts recommended include: three librarians, a music teacher, building and trades, a part-time art teacher, maintenance, utility and reducing the ag teacher’s position to 75 percent.

“These I’m willing to negotiate,” Cook said.

The board hasn’t made any decisions regarding cuts yet.

“We need to proceed with caution. It is going to be hard for some to understand,” said Board Vice President Kevin Lane.