Archive for Thursday, April 12, 2007

USD 232 tax increase proposed

April 12, 2007

De Soto USD 232 Board of Education members listened to administrators make their pitch for a mill levy increase for the 2007-2008 school year but deferred a decision on the request until later this month.

The 3.597 mill levy increase proposed by De Soto Superintendent Sharon Zoellner and district financial director Ken Larsen would be largely fueled by the Kansas Board of Tax Appeal's recent approval of the district's request for added mill levy approval with the opening of two new schools.

In February, Zoellner and Larsen asked the board to authorize a request to the tax appeals board for $1.76 million in added mill levy authority to make up for the shortfall in district revenue stemming from the need to staff and operate the new Horizon Elementary School and Mill Creek Middle School, which are to open in August.

The added authority would be granted for five years and would decline to 75 percent of the new authority in the third year, 50 percent in the fourth year and 25 percent in the final year.

On Monday, Larsen and Zoellner provided updated figures on the district's needs for the coming year. The district would be in line for additional revenue with an estimated enrollment growth of 300 students and by making use of some of the added local option budget authority granted by the Legislature. But increased cost, largely attributed to added salaries, would leave the district $293,000 short of that adequate to cover needs, they said.

And, Zoellner said, that figure did not include teacher salary increases that would be negotiated later this spring.

Larsen and Zoellner told the board Monday that the entire extra taxing authority the tax appeals board granted (which grew to $1.85 million with this year's valuation numbers) wasn't needed. Instead, they recommended making use of $1.27 million of the granted authority in next year's budget, which Larsen estimated to equal 3.334 mills.

The administrators early budget scenario also showed the district using 1.781 mills of added authority in the local option budget and a decrease in bond and interest mill levy of .865 mills. Overall, the early 2007-2008 budget scenario estimated a 73.912 mill levy, up from 69.693 in 2006-2007.

That would equal about $3 a month per $100,000 of assessed valuation on a home, Larsen said.

At that mill rate, the money would be available for increases to teachers' salaries, Zoellner said.

Although the district was able to fill many of the positions in the new schools by transferring teachers from existing schools that will lose enrollment with their opening, the district would be looking to add 42 new teaching positions next year, Zoellner said.

Although a final decision on the request wasn't needed Monday, it was important the district got direction on the proposed added mill levy authority because this is a critical time in the teacher recruitment process, Zoellner said.

Looking ahead, Zoellner said the district could see the loss of Johnson County sales tax revenue when the tax sunset and would be challenged to stay competitive in teacher salaries with the county's three large districts. Those districts would be able to raise a large amount of revenue from the legislative measure passed last year that gives them added mill levy authority specifically for teachers' salaries, she said.

Board member Randy Johnson was the only board member in February to vote against requesting the added authority. He repeated his opposition Monday.

"There are a lot of areas we could be a lot wiser with our money," he said.

Johnson added he thought the decision on the added authority would be made in July.

Traditionally, these kinds of decisions were made even earlier in the year, Zoellner said.

"This is a January-February discussion, but we've had other things happening in this district."

Board member Janine Gracy said she was ready to approve the administrators' request, but board member Bill Waye said his February vote was to ask for the authority not to approve its use. He wanted to study the request before making that decision, he said.

But Waye and other board members said they didn't want to tie district recruiters' hands when talking to good teaching prospects. There was enough money in the district's contingency fund to provide the money for the added teachers if the board didn't agree to the mill levy increase, he said.

"I'm not ready to vote," he said. "Move ahead, and we will have a way to fund it at the next meeting."

Waye and Johnson joined in voting against awarding a contract to BF Freeman Construction of De Soto to install an overflow parking lot at Riverview Elementary in Shawnee for $87,000. Waye questioned whether the parking lot would be needed after the school's enrollment decreased with the opening of Horizon.

Johnson was the sole vote against a bid to replace sidewalks at Starside, Monticello Trails Middle School and De Soto High School from BF Freeman for $45,000 and to install a fiber optic line to Countryside Learning Center.

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