The first of two scheduled community forums to inform voters about the proposed 1 percent increase in the USD 385 Local Option Budget was held June 28 at Meadowlark Elementary School.
District employees outlined the reasons for the requested increase and how the money would be spent, if approved. The proposed increase, which would restore some of the positions lost to cuts in state funding the past four years, is on the Aug. 7 ballot.
Superintendent Mark Evans opened the informational meeting by explaining that the increase would give the district some options that it doesn’t have now. He also said the recommended changes came from the district’s Budget Advisory Committee, which considered the needs at all levels of education, both academically and athletically.
Evans said the committee tried to come up with what would be best for the district as a whole. If anyone were to develop such a “wish list” on his or her own, no two lists would be the, he noted.
District Business Manager Jim Freeman explained that the district’s operating budget – the amount of money it takes for them to educate the children – comes from state aid and property taxes. He said that 30 percent is the average LOB among school boards statewide, although a handful are at 31 percent.
“The proposed 1 percent increase in the Local Option Budget would result in an increase in property tax by approximately one-half mill,” he said. “That would be 50 cents more per month on a $100,000 house.
According to Freeman, during the past four years the district has seen its state budget cut by $4.7 million, resulting in the loss of about 30 staff positions and 84 coaches. The proposed increase would generate about $433,000 in money for the district and recoup some of these losses.
“It was almost as hard to figure out what to try and put back as it was to figure out what to take out,” Superintendent Mark Evans said.
A couple of people out of the dozen or so who attended the meeting sounded like they had already made up their minds about which way to vote. One woman was heard before the meeting to say, “I would rather see technology added than 35 coaches.”
During the comment portion of the forum, this woman asked if the sports in which the district is asking for coaches still have teams.
“I can take my kids to the Y and get football, but I can’t take them there to get technology,” she said.
Evans replied that many of these sports lost their junior varsity teams because of the cuts. Freeman noted that the cost associated with the addition of the 35 coaches accounted for only 15 percent of the $433,000.
One man in the audience asked if the increased funds would improve the students’ scores. Evans explained that he hoped these increases were about more than just scores.
Page 2 of 2 - “This is about teaching soft skills that won’t even show up in scores. It’s difficult to measure some of these benefits,” he said. “Like learning how to get along and to work together. Those skills won’t be reflected in test scores.
“We hope students learn things to help them hold a job and become a responsible citizen.”
The same man unabashedly said he wasn’t going to vote for the proposal because “It won’t ever stop with taxes.”
When questioned, Freeman said the requested increase is a one-time thing. That means the school board couldn’t come back and ask for another increase in the future, based upon current state law. There was some talk in the state legislature this session that could have changed the limits of the LOB, but nothing was passed.
District members provided attendees with a Q&A handout, a summary of how the money was to be spent, and information about registering to vote for those who weren’t.
At this point, only one other informational meeting is scheduled for July 31.
For more information, call the district office at 218-4660.