Wednesday, August 13, 2014

School board to reluctantly consider raising taxe rates

Enrollment down district wide

J-E News Editor
Webster County School Board met in a brief work session on Monday night at the board office in Dixon. 
As part of Superintendent Dr. Rachel Yarbrough’s overhaul of the way the district does business, the first board meeting of each month has officially been designated as a work session, with most business being held for the meeting held on the fourth Monday of the month. This is to allow board members more time to work as a group to discuss ways to improve the district and to discuss issues facing the district.  

“For our purposes, unless there is an emergency, at these work sessions we are just going to talk,” Dr. Yarbrough said.
One of the biggest topics of discussion of the work session was the proposed tax rate. Although no decisions were made during the session, board members agreed to proceed as if they will pursue a four percent increase. Under law an increase to the tax rate requires the board to place two notices in the newspaper for a public hearing, which must be held no less than seven days and no more than ten days following the second notice. This must be completed in time for the board to meet and approve the new tax rate prior to August 31, leaving a very small window of opportunity.
Superintendent Dr. Rachel Yarbrough and the board made it clear that they have no wish to raise taxes, but they didn’t have much choice.
“I would look you in the eye and say you need to consider 4% tax increase,” Yarbrough told the board.
School districts across the state all find themselves in a difficult financial situation as the 2014-2015 school year gets under way. First of all is the two percent across the board pay increase that the state legislature mandated last year. When the increases were introduced, it appeared that the state would fund those raises, but as time has passed, it seems that the state will only fund a small portion of those.
The second blow came from a settlement dealing with the Kentucky School Board Insurance Trust (KSBIT). Between 1997 and 2013 KSBIT paid $7.5 million in royalties and management fees to the Kentucky School Board Association (KSBA). After KSBIT folded in January of last year, school boards across the state were informed that they would be responsible for paying the insurance trust’s deficit. Webster County’s bill is for $86,000.
According to Yarbrough, a four percent tax increase will generate around $203,000. That amount will still come up just short of the required two percent pay increases.
“They’re too scared to raise taxes in Frankfort, so they pass this down to us to make us look like the bad guys,” said board member Tim McCormick.
“I don’t have a problem looking at our constituents and saying that we have no choice,” said board chairman Jeff Pettit. “The state has told us we have to increase salaries and isn’t fully funding the increase.”
A four percent increase does not mean that everyone’s taxes would go up by four percent. It would only move the rate from 47.6 to 48.6 cents per $100. Property owners would basically pay one penny extra for every $100 of their property’s  value.
The 48.6 rate would generate roughly $3,265,266 total, or about $203,000 more than they brought in through taxes last year.
A public hearing will be held in the Webster County Board of Education meeting room on August 28th, 2142, at 5:30 p.m. All Webster County residents are invited to discuss the proposed increase.
During the work session, Dr. Yarbrough informed the board that following rain storms that occurred after the start of the school year, district officials had identified three leaky roofs in the county schools. 
The first was in a section of the middle school where the old structure meets new construction. That leak will fall under the district’s construction contract with Princeton Lumber Company, the contractor who completed the middle school. It will be repaired before the board makes their final payment.
The other two leaks will require the board to hire another contractor. One is in the old English department at the high school, and the other is in the lobby of Sebree Elementary.
“In 1999 there was a leak in the lobby at Sebree and it seems there is still a leak in the lobby at Sebree,” Yarbrough informed the board. “It would certainly be prudent to go ahead and address these two reoccurring problems.” 
Initial estimates on the roof repairs came to $56,515 - $36,565 at Sebree and $19,950 at the high school. At the next board meeting Yarbrough will also present members with an estimate on repairing damages inside the buildings.
An issue that has been something of a hot topic over the last few years was once again brought up on Monday night. School board policy is to reimburse the expenses of any athletic or academic group that qualifies for  and travels to a state or national competition.
Yarbrough presented the board with a proposal for a policy that would set a cap on those trips at 75%, or up to $2000 of expenses not reimbursed. She added that this policy was only a sample from another district and could be adjusted if the board was interested in creating such a policy.  
“(Treasurer) Brandi Burnett and I talked about that last year,” said Pettit. “We had one trip last year that cost an absorbent amount of money.”  
“I think this sends the message that the board supports the students, but it sets limitations,” Yarbrough told the board. “And it allows organizations to plan for how much the board will cover.”  
“Is there any way to get numbers to show how much we’ve paid on certain trips?” asked Tim McCormick. “I don’t know how to approach that. It will cost some groups, such as football, more to travel to state than it would say the cross country team. Is it fair that we would pay for all of one groups expenses and not another?”  
“The way the policy reads right now there are no limits,” said Yarbrough.” I think it’s fair for you to set a limit. I think for your own financial efficiency you should set some limits.” 
The board will discuss this policy further at the next board meeting.
During the first three days of classes, attendance district wide fluctuated between 2,100 -2085 students. WCHS had the largest student body, at 621, while Sebree (320) and Dixon (319) remained second and third on the list. 
Webster County Middle School averaged 289, far short of the 350 that was originally expected, but it did seem to ease overcrowding in Sebree. A year ago Sebree Elementary reported 435 students during the first week of classes, and Dixon had 406.
Providence dropped from 379 to 295, while Clay dropped from 314 students to 241, maintaining its status as the district’s smallest school. 
This is a noticeable drop in the student body population. Last year the district reported enrollment of 2,157 after the first week, which officials said was virtually unchanged from the year before. The high school’s 621 students is up three from last year, but still lower than the 652 it reported during the first week of 2013.

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