Click on the post to view the packet provided at last night's Annual Meeting. They also met as "committees of the whole" for Facilities and Transportation, Finance, Policy and Board Development, the link to which agenda is posted below:
They completed the finance section of the committees of the whole before breaking and coming back into session in the Annual Meeting. I arrived just in time for the tail end of the "future land purchase" discussion. The relatively new board is unfamiliar with the past history of investigation and needs more information before moving forward on any recommendations. The population study used at the time of the PR study is five years old and therefore obsolete. They agreed to get a quote for a new population study and review past data from PR, population study and the Long Term Planning Ad Hoc Committee. They will revisit at the October Committees of the Whole meeting.
Many questions surrounded the Health and Nursing Services Report and Heidi will research the answers and put them in her October report to the school board. The next FT committee report will be in January. By then, all the board members ought to be up to speed on the land purchase past data to decide the next step.
Next up was Finance. They usually do the discussion items first in all meetings, so they did items marked "B" first. There were 4 items up for discussion. Nancy Hurley gave an update on the status of the Education Foundation, which is moving forward at a good pace. Heidi Carvin gave an update on the Building Trades House. The offer expires September 30, at which time the buyers can rescind, continue the offer as it stands (contingent on sale of their home) or decided to just buy outright regardless of their own home sale. Fat chance on the last choice, I thought to myself...The BT class is hard at work getting the new house going. As for the newly available stimulus funds, the plan for spending the three hundred some odd thousand in federal superman funds is up to $77,000 for sure, with a question as to whether they will include another 23K that was already in the budget under the federal umbrella. It was my thought that the reason for this was more due to wanting to hold it back in case of disaster in the state budget next year. The discussion during the Annual Meeting that follows later makes me think it's something else at this point. More to do with "if we don't spend it, our state aid will decrease" kind of thought process, my least favorite public service budget arguement of all time. More on this later. The final discussion item, "Process Administrative Staff Raises; Merit/Cost of Living" was brought up by Nancy Hurley. She was curious as to how to address bringing this into the compensation discussion. Heidi's response was that in the last few years, she hasn't even given COLA raises to her staff. I don't think that's correct, but I'd have to check out the raises vs. COL increases in our area to verify. The discussion revolved around the mechanism for review having to change in order to bring merit to the table for non-union employees (like not just saying "the teachers got this raise, now so do we.."). It was interesting to see how Ms. Hurley reacted when she was told that "any merit pay for teachers would have to be written into the contract." When she asked how do they award their good teachers, Heidi told Nancy to nominate them for a Kohl's Award. Nice.
Finally, they got around to the action item: "Approval of a Non Union Position," which was moved (TR)and seconded(EB). This is when the first round of sparks flew. I don't know the details, because apparently this position has been on the down-low for a while. There's this guy who has been doing a "cleaner" kind of job for the district, funded by some Rock County work initiative for some unclear amount of time. Rock County Human Services (I probably have all the details wrong here, so don't quote me) asked the school to help out employing him when his Janesville job was eliminated. Previously, his entire salary was subsidized by Rock County. Now, that is being cut, so the administration asked the board to approve about $6600 to finish funding this position. After discussion that included things like, "in the Program Based Budgeting process, we were told they could do without this cleaner position," and "we are just about to vote in the annual meeting on a budget to which this is not added. What do you plan to cut to provide this service?" and "If we do need this position, I'd rather give the money to our current employees!" Michael Pierick moved to defer the vote until the October 25 Meetings of the Whole when they will know exactly what they plan to cut to include this position in the budget. Dennis Hatfield seconded. The discussion that ensued pointed out the problem. Apparently, his employment will end this week without board action last night. "I'll have to tell him he is no longer employed if you don't act now!" "So be it." said the board. "Since he currently is not under contract, I assume that his pay has been provided out of some discretionary fund that the administration has access to. It's their decision whether to continue use of those discretionary funds or not." Vote to defer passed 5-2 (Rossmiller, Busse). WHOA! Way to go Michael, Dennis, Sharon, Kathy and Nancy. Don't let them push you around. If the administration can't plan any better than this, you need to push back and remind them that THE BOARD is in charge of the district!
Next up 5 minute break followed by the Annual Meeting. I had a chance at this time to talk briefly with Deb Olsen about how the 2.1% decrease in property value was arrived at for our district. Somebody emailed me about this figure in light of the 3% reduction used for the city meeting. If you search Property Values in Rock County, you can find all the various communities and the projected declines in property value for each municipality comprising the school district. City of Evansville figure is projected at a 3% decrease, so it is accurate for the city to use this figure. To calculate a value for the school district, it is a matter of prorating all the values to arrive at a final figure of -2.1%. I was pretty sure this was how it was done and Deb verified it for me.
First order of business was to elect a Chair for the meeting. Dennis nominated Michael Pierick, Tina seconded, motion passed unanimously. I was the only non-school related person at the meeting. Attendees included the board, Heidi, Kelly Mosher, Deb Olsen, Vicki Lecy-Luebke, Lou Havlik and yours truly. 13 people to set the levy of a school district comprised of over 2000 voters. This is a sad statistic and brings shame on us all. Packer game or not.
Critical business included a motion (MP) and second (DH) to maintain board officer salaries at $1300 and board member salaries at $1200 for 10-11. Motion passed unanimously. Each separate Fund comprising our budget was then reviewed. I asked if the 13 million in state aid was final, answer was no. This means they don't know how much the state plans to kick in this year. I asked if the SAGE grant was really going to remain the same as last year (word on the street was no), and Deb used a middle value between the projected values. It could go down by as much as about 20K depending on how many districts apply for the grants since the total grant amount remains the same and more districts applying means less per district. I asked about the huge increases in our Special Education fund revenues 27 seen last year (9.7%) and this year (3.9%). They are from ARRA funds (round one of the stimulus package) and will disappear next year. I asked why the Debt Service Fund 30 value used for the Property Tax Levy summary on page 27 of the packet was lower than the value in the Debt Service Schedule on page 15 of the packet and it has to do with the difference in payment schedule (October) vs. fiscal year ending date (June 30).
Finally, it was time to vote on the proposed property tax levy. KS moved and EB seconded "Mr. President:I move that there be and hereby is levied and assessed against the taxable property both real and personal, within the confines of the Evansville Community School District, to be raised during the coming year taxes in the amount of $7,681,714, including $2,564,637 for debt service." Michael Pierick moved and I seconded to amend the motion to everything the same except that the total value of taxes raised would be reduced to $7,485,253. The missing $196,461 would be paid out of the fund balance, reducing the fund balance from the projected 11.01% to 10.00%, as is required in the current policy. I was astonished by his motion, because when I discovered the projected fund balance of 11.01%, it was my thoughts exactly to use the excess funds in this way. It was like we were twins or something. Eerie! Anyway, the district projects to end fiscal year 09-10 with 11.75% in the fund balance, 1.75% higher than the "schedule" in policy. The reduction to 11.01% for fiscal year ending June 2011 is because they expect to spend more than they get in revenue next year. Ideally, we want to see 10.5% in the fund balance next year to meet the goal of a half percent increase every year until 2020 when we plan to have the recommended 15% in our fund balance. But as Michael said, if every there were a rainy day, this is it. Monsoon season is my take on it. Apparently, there are homeless people sleeping on our park benches now. Many people have been profoundly negatively affected by the economy. Raising the mill rate by 9.25% is not the way to make friends in the community. The result of Michael's motion would reduce the Mill rate from the proposed $11.46 per thousand (a 9.75% increase from the current $10.49 per thousand. I incorrectly identified the current mill rate in prior posts as $10.80 per thousand) to $11.17 per thousand. This would be a 6.5% increase in the mill rate. The discussion that ensued was classic government speak and just aggravates me to even repeat it.
Our wise government would penalize our school district for trying to lift the tax burden from our citizens by using our "rainy day fund" to reduce the tax burden. That was even part of the discussion. Tina pointed out that she thought the fund balance was only for emergency purposes and as such shouldn't be used for tax containment purposes. I suppose if her house went into foreclosure because she couldn't afford her property taxes, she might sing another tune. The school taxes are only part of our tax bill. The city will raise taxes and the county will raise taxes. This is going to be a complete nightmare to see the tax bill in December. So, even though the fund balance is ahead of "schedule" to meet the 15% by 2020, using it in this way would reduce the state funding in 2011-12 from what it would be if we levied the whole thing. Since exact values of expected state revenue reductions from this action weren't known, the board wasn't willing to take a chance in this way. This was pretty dang frustrating for me. It's not like his proposal gutted programs or even reduced the Fund 10 local tax support. It just reduced the magnitude of the increase from 7.6% to 3.48% with the balance being paid from our "savings" account, the fund balance. Holy hemlock, when will these people understand the house of cards they have built on? I thought Michael's proposal was well thought out. Maybe if he had brought the idea to Deb so she could run the numbers before the meeting, it would have been more successful. Since Deb has been sick, he probably felt uncomfortable asking her to do even more for the meeting. The bottom line is that they are banking on money the state doesn't have and probably won't be giving anyway. The whole budgeting process is one big giant SNAFU. The timing doesn't allow for precise values to be used. Business managers have to be ouija boards and prognosticators of the highest order to keep their districts from going bankrupt and school boards tend continue to the "use it or lose it" taxation mentality that has placed them in the precarious predicament in which they currently find themselves mired. Anybody up in Madison paying attention? Fix this problem. Cross it out and start over because the current system is broken beyond all recognition.
But I digress from the business at hand. Michaels amendment failed 2-11 (you probably already surmised that) and the original motion passed 11-2. I can't wait to see what the city plans to levy next year. Yikes, is all I can say.
I didn't stay for the Policy or Board Development part of the meeting. The Packer Game beckoned. Policy brought back the "Wednesday and weekend activities" and "Protecting Instruction Time" policies that promised to be controvesial and lively discussions. I'll get the rest of the story for a later post. I think most people are looking for the Annual Meeting results and I want to get them out now. More later on developing stories.