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School board adopts new budget, refuses to raise taxes

Article Date: 
23 August, 2013 (All day)

At their latest meeting, the Morgan County School Board adopted a new budget for the 2013-14 school year and did not vote to increase the board local levy.
“I think the community spoke loud and clear they didn’t want taxes increased,” Boardmember Ken Durrant said.  “They were pretty emphatic.” 
While a truth in taxation request was on the school board’s most recent agenda, the board members agreed to wait until March to consider any new tax increases.  By then, they should have a better idea what state revenues or cuts to expect in their next round of budgeting.
“We did not raise our taxes.  Our goal is to give your kids the education they need, at the best level we can provide,” Board President Bruce Galbraith said.  “There is no malice toward anyone in the community.”
The newest budget reflected a decrease in salaries reflective of fewer teachers, as well as an increase in money spent on benefits such as health insurance and retirement.  
The district spent $19,000 more on substitutes than was provided for in the 2012-13 budget because four teacher had babies this year, Poll said.  Fuel costs in 2012-2013 were over budget $14,000 while tires and parts added up to $21,000 over budget.  Total overruns in 2012-13 for transportation were $108,000.  Even with the cuts being implemented this year, Poll expects transportation costs to overrun the 2013-2014 budget by $61,000.
The addition of two special education students needing nursing care required $25,000 more than was budgeted for.  The gap would have been a lot wider if the district had not sought Medicare funds to help out.
The school lunch department is in good shape with a $90,000 fund balance, Poll said.  The leftover money will remain in that budget for the purchase of equipment.
“It is unusual for a school lunch program to break even,” Jacobs said.
Poll attributed the situation to a frugal department director, while Boardmember Ken Durrant attributed it to an increase in student school lunch fees.
“We made the decision we were not going to subsidize it anymore and raised the prices,” Durrant said.
Poll said Morgan’s food services department runs one of the top five in the state considering its budget.
Poll said she has set aside $189,000 from the sale of the old bus garage property for the purchase of new busses in the upcoming 2013-2014 year.  Decisions to spend the money will be made once a new transportation director is hired.
School districts all over the state have been spending down their fund balances to make up the shortfall created by decreasing state funds, Poll said.  
Over the years, the Morgan district has been taking money from its “rainy day” contingency fund to make up the difference, a move that has lowered the district’s credit rating.
According to state law, school districts can place up to 5 percent in fund contingency balances, but Board President Bruce Galbraith said Morgan’s $150,000 rainy day fund amounts to a meager 0.03 percent in a $13 million budget.  The 5 percent would amount to more like $650,000, he said.
“We spent all but $10,000 on emergency things,” Galbraith said.  “We have been a cross-your-fingers type of operation, running so tight.  We have been a nervous school board for quite a while.”
Durrant is hoping reinstituting a financial/auditing committee headed by Boardmember Mark Farmer may help the district in the future.  The item will be on the board’s next agenda.  The district used to have such a committee years ago.