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Whitnall School Board opts for zero hike in levy in 2012-13 budget

Districts uses fund balance to reduce debt

Sept. 4, 2012

Greenfield - A zero-increase property tax levy proposed 2012-13 budget has cleared the Whitnall School Board and will head to the district annual meeting Sept. 24.

"The School Board decided it was not going to levy to the max to hold the tax levy in line," said Douglas Johnson, business manager.

So, the proposed levy remains at the more than $15.5 million last year's levy was. Total proposed spending is nearly $30.3 million, which is significantly down from last year's $49 million.

Retiring a lot of debt

The sharp reduction in spending is due to the School Board's decision to use the budget's fund balance to pay off much of the district's debt, Johnson said, leaving only $445,000 left to pay this year in addition to borrowing for the $6.5 million athletic complex renovation.

That debt retirement was reflected in the general fund, basically the operating budget, where proposed spending for next year is $23.7 million compared with $30.6 million last year.

Paying off the big chunk of debt dropped the district's fund balance from $10.9 million in 2010-11 to an expected $5.9 million (pending final accounting numbers) at the end of last year. Johnson said the new fund balance is still more than 22 percent of the district's operating budget, close to 25 percent level the School Board wants and well above the administrative policy level of 15 percent.

Johnson should find out this week whether the $5.9 million will be enough to enable the district to avoid short-term borrowing to keep the schools running until taxes come in January. Many other school districts have to short-term borrow, but that was never an issue for Whitnall with its larger $10.9 million fund balance.

Budgeting for teachers

The number of teachers and aides wouldn't be reduced under the proposed budget, said Superintendent Lowell Holtz, and class sizes would be pretty much identical to last year.

The Finance Committee directed that 2 percent raises be built into the proposed budget, Johnson said. But that would have to be negotiated. Last year, employees got pay raises of 1.5 percent.

Helping hold the line on costs is keeping health insurance costs in line, Johnson said. There will be no increase in premiums, mainly because of small changes in the policy such as drug co-pays going up about $5, but deductibles and maximum out of pocket costs remain the same, he said.

Holtz was pleased with the proposed budget.

"The biggest highlight is respecting the taxpayers and holding the line at a (no levy increase)," he said.

And that was done while being able to accommodate the additional students coming out for football and soccer, he said.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: annual meeting on the proposed 2012-13 budget

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 24

WHERE: Whitnall High School community room, 5000 S. 116th St., Greenfield

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