Board adopts school budget

Sean C. Morgan

The District 55 School Board voted 8-1 to adopt a budget that cuts $1.7 million and is still looking for another $240,000 to bolster the general fund’s ending fund balance.

Chanz Keeney voted no on the budget. Leena Neuschwander, Billie Weber, Dale Keene, Jason Redick, Mike Reynolds, David VanDerlip, John Fassler and Jenny Daniels voted yes.

The district administration hasn’t gotten agreement from the employee groups yet to schedule furlough days, which save about $60,000 per day, said Business Manager Kevin Strong, but the district is looking for $240,000 in savings on labor costs.

“We’re going to achieve that $240,000 one way or another,” Strong said.

Combined with additional cuts for $315,000 in savings, the figure helps the district increase its ending fund balance from about 1 percent to near 3 percent, a $450,000 ending fund balance.

Absent four furlough days, the district will probably use a combination of cuts to reach the figure, said Supt. Larry Horton. The administrators would try to figure out where to make cuts with the least impact to children.

Keeney told the board he was concerned about the amount of cuts that come from one-time sources, such as the long-term maintenance fund, the early retirement fund and the Public Employees Retirement System debt service fund.

Strong told him that about a third of the cut is one-time money.

“We’re plugging a hole of $1.7 million with funds that aren’t stabilized, kind of like last year,” Keeney said. “And each year, our reserves are getting lower and lower and lower. “What’s your plan long-term? Other entities are saying this is the new normal.

“I feel we need to have a plan in place where we’re not tapping into our reserves. I’m very concerned we don’t have a plan in place.”

The one-time funds, the reserves, serve as a shock absorber, Strong said, and the district will still have reserves even after this budget.

The district has made long-term cuts, including the pool, staff raises and staffing levels, Neuschwander said.

“We try to devastate the programs we have,” Horton said. “There are a lot of districts devastating their programs.”

The district doesn’t have a crystal ball to determine what the economy will do, he said. “We’re doing the best we can with what we have.”

The district may have to make deeper cuts in the future, and the board may have to look at a four-day school week, contracting out for some services and larger class sizes.

Other districts are making more drastic cuts because they don’t have any kind of cushion to survive, Horton said.

“I think the way Kevin has guided us to put back is for this type of situation,” Redick said.

The general fund approved by the School Board is $18.2 million, and all funds are $28.9 million.

In other business, the board:

n Adopted a policy that treats electronic cigarettes like cigarettes and other tobacco products, banning them from School District property.

The board had been considering another option to ban electronic cigarettes only among students and during school hours and school events.

Voting for the full ban were Neuschwander, Weber, Keeney, Redick, Reynolds, VanDerlip and Daniels. Voting against the full ban were Keene and Fassler.

n Ratified a contract with the classified association, which represents district support staff. The contract includes a freeze on step increases, no cost-of-living adjustments and no increase in health insurance benefits.

n Agreed to pay $1,000 to the Linn County Assessor’s Office for a mock tax run of the proposed aquatics district, which would take over operation of the pool at the high school. The district cut most pool expenses from its budget this year with the idea that a new special district would form to take over the pool.

City of Sweet Home officials asked for a mock tax run to see the impact of compression on tax revenue.

The City Council will need to pass a resolution supporting the aquatics district before the district can go before voters, Horton said.

Compression is an effect of a property tax limitation of $10 per $1,000 of real market valuation on general government. If the tax rate on an individual property is higher than $10, the excess is not levied. Compression is measured on a property-by-property basis.

If the tax rate exceeds the limit, local option levies are reduced until the taxes are at the limit. Permanent rates are affected only once all local option levies on a property are reduced to zero.

Local option levies are voter-approved levies passed periodically. In Sweet Home, they include the police levy, the library levy, the Linn County law levy and a levy for the proposed veteran’s home in Lebanon. Together, these levies would be reduced first by compression.

Permanent rates include the city of Sweet Home, Linn County, the Sweet Home Cemetery District, the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District and the Extension Service. An aquatics district would have a permanent rate. These levies are reduced after local options are reduced to zero.