School board eliminates tax increase

The school board is backing off its plan to raise taxes.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, the board unanimously approved a budget proposal with no tax increase.

The board did not subtract any expenditures in order to make up the $400,000 it would have made with an additional mill of taxes as proposed last month.

After hearing during the finance committee meeting that the district could safety delay payment of $400,000 into a retirement health insurance benefit, board members initially discussed reducing the proposed one-mill increase to half-a-mill.

That idea was brought up by administrators.

“Administration is definitely not recommending the 1.826 mill increase” that is the maximum allowable at this point under state rules, Director of Business Services Jim Grosch said. “We are also not recommending a zero tax increase. We would recommend a half-mill increase.”

“I know as a board we’re reluctant to raise taxes,” Board President Donna Zariczny said. “But, we also know we need to do our due diligence in that regard. A half-mill… I would be in favor of moving in that direction.”

“I thought we were going to have to do a mill,” board member Marcy Morgan said. “Being able to reduce that by half feels good to me.”

The board planned to expend almost a million dollars of its dedicated fund balance.

That would leave about $800,000 that could be covered by the uncommitted fund balance.

“I’m not in favor of any millage (increase) until we maximize the cuts,” board member Joe Colosimo said.

He brought up an item on the possible cuts list that board members indicated a willingness to cut — a central office administration position.

“We’re telling our constituents, ‘yeah, we gotta raise taxes, even though two thirds of the board are willing to cut a position,'” Colosimo said.

“If we take your way of doing it, there are other things that fit the same parameter that are still on the cut list,” board member Arthur Stewart said, pointing to an item that would delay new secondary English textbooks. “The budget is what we make it to be in a motion. If you want a budget that doesn’t include that central office position in it, make a motion.”

That possibility did not make it to a motion.

Superintendent Amy Stewart defended the district’s need for the position at length.

She said the position’s “value to the district… to the students of this district” mean it “is not the place to take this amount of money at this time.”

The position was created for the 2016-2017 school year, because “we were tired of not making any headway in instruction.”

Board member Jeff Labesky asked about the possibility of cutting half of an item — the athletic transportation line item. “What would we lose?”

“We would lose some of our runs,” Coordinator of County-Wide Athletics Rick Gignac said.

“There is a means for kids to get to the game,” Labesky said.

Director of Administrative Support Services Gary Weber said dropping the district from liability for transportation was one option not available to the district. “We had kids driving themselves to games,” he said. “I can’t police that if we’re not accepting any liability. That did not seem prudent.”

“I’m not proposing letting students drive themselves,” he said. “Maybe we need to explore maybe purchasing some vans.”

A cut to the athletic transportation budget, and another suggestion to reduce “non-essential supplementals,” did not gain any traction.

But, despite not reducing the expenditures, the board did eliminate the proposed tax increase.

“I’m tired of cutting things and there are things that we still haven’t fully re-funded after 10 years,” Arthur Stewart said. “We have given the state a free pass. Our net state funding is down if you factor in our pensions.”

“We have given the state a free pass,” he said. “We’ve raised taxes enough times. I would favor a zero-mill tax increase and I would favor not cutting one thing.”

Athletic registration

Students who would like to participate in sports or band in the fall have to sign up online.

The registration period opens Saturday, June 1 and runs through Monday, July 8.

“We don’t want anybody struggling out there,” Amy Stewart said. “We’re doing the best we can to advertise the new program.”

Signs are posted at each of the buildings with regard to the athletic programs and bands.

Some administrators and board members carry cards that contain the pertinent information – deadlines, website, phone number – for signing up.

Administrators and board members are aware of concerns that not every family has access to a computer or internet at home.

“There is always the library,” Morgan said. “Or they can come to a school building.”

Weber said the registration process can be handled on a smart phone.

Import

The board went through an unusual step at Tuesday’s special meeting, approving a customs power of attorney agreement.

Because the recycled steel dragon commissioned by student council as a gift to Warren Area High School is coming from overseas, the district will have to sign for its importation.

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