The Morgan County School Board struggled on Tuesday night to find a solution to a shortfall of more than $100,000 in transportation funds caused by the increase in fuel costs. The largest challenge is the overruns caused by picking children up for school and dropping them off. A secondary issue is the number and length of trips taken by activity organizations (sports, band, choir, etc) and field trips at the elementary and middle school.
The board considered several options. The recommendation was made to increase activity fees at the high school a second time. In the last meeting the board made the decision to move the activity fees for the second activity in which a student is enrolled from $50.00 to $75.00. That decision made the fees for the first and second activity the same at $75.00. The board considered a proposed increase of $20.00 in addition to the $75.00 to help to cover the fuel costs. They also considered charging for each activity rather than just the first two.
The revenue from these changes would have been modest, probably less than $12,000. As the board considered the changes they determined not to increase the fees. Their primary concern was that a change in fees would impact only those involved in activities and would potentially place a hardship on some families, when the larger shortfall is related to picking kids up and dropping them off. Morgan continues to have lower fees for activities than many schools in the state.
The board did, however, direct the schools to look for ways to decrease the number, length, and frequency of trips taken by students. They asked that school leaders find ways to consolidate trips for sports teams, where possible. They also directed the schools to recover the costs of student reward trips from the students participating in these events.
The most significant change, however, was that the board authorized the district to raise the transportation levy to the highest rate allowed. This will add approximately $7.00 per household per year to property taxes in the county.
Districts across the state have been taking a double hit in the last several years. Fuel prices have continued to rise each year, sometimes substantially. At the same time the state has provided less funds for transportation. D’Lynn Poll reported to the board that over the past several years the state has decreased the funding from providing eighty percent of the cost to now only providing about sixty-two percent of the costs related to transportation. Rural counties have been hit the hardest since they have the longest distances to drive to pick up students.
The district also faces a secondary funding problem. As house values have fallen the taxable value in the county has also fallen. It seemed likely from discussion in the board meeting, that the district would increase property tax rates to account for the lower value and recapture the lost revenue. School Districts are allowed to change the rates to keep their tax revenue constant in situations like this. Poll reported that if the District changed the tax rates it would add $68 per household per year over what the current rate would generate.
The problem of the full transportation shortfall was not addressed in the meeting. The remaining amount not covered by the transportation levy increase will continue to come out of the general fund. This means less money will continue to be available for teachers and other essential functions. As fuel prices remain high and funding from the state remains low, this will likely be a problem the school board will face on an ongoing basis.