Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ottawa eyes school resource officer’s return amid plans for increased budget

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 7/24/2013

An additional kindergarten classroom, the return of a school resource officer and the increasing cost of liability insurance are some of the driving factors behind the Ottawa school board’s tentative plans to raise the district’s mill rate by 1.28 mills.

Jeanne Stroh, superintendent of Ottawa schools, outlined those three reasons — coupled with the district’s declining property valuation — as having the most effect on the 2013-2014 budget. School board members unanimously agreed Monday night to endorse Stroh’s proposed 1.28-mill increase from 59.062 mills in 2012-2013 to 60.445 mills for 2013-2014.

An additional kindergarten classroom, the return of a school resource officer and the increasing cost of liability insurance are some of the driving factors behind the Ottawa school board’s tentative plans to raise the district’s mill rate by 1.28 mills.

Jeanne Stroh, superintendent of Ottawa schools, outlined those three reasons — coupled with the district’s declining property valuation — as having the most effect on the 2013-2014 budget. School board members unanimously agreed Monday night to endorse Stroh’s proposed 1.28-mill increase from 59.062 mills in 2012-2013 to 60.445 mills for 2013-2014.

The board also unanimously agreed in principal to raise the Ottawa Recreation Commission’s mill levy from 0.8 to 1.0 mills to compensate for a spike in employee health insurance costs. The recreation commission is a separate entity that receives its taxing authority through the school district.

The board is expected to take formal action on the 2013-2014 budget after a public budget hearing 6:45 p.m. Aug. 12 in the board meeting room at the school district’s central office, 1404 S. Ash St., Ottawa.

Stroh and Teri George, the school district’s financial director/treasurer, met with a Kansas Department of Education official who had reviewed the school district’s proposed 2013-2014 budget and applauded George for her work, Stroh told the board.

The initial mill increase was proposed at 1.38 mills, but the district was able to shave that to 1.28 mills by decreasing the adult education mill levy from 0.5 mills to 0.4 mills, Stroh said, because the fund’s cash balances would sustain it.

“We can spend down our cash balances in the adult education fund over the next few years,” Stroh said.

Another factor prompting the slight increase in the overall mill levy, Stroh and board members pointed out, is that the district’s property valuation had dropped 1.7 percent.

One mill would generate an estimated $107,068 in 2013, down from $107,505 in 2012, according to district budget numbers. When the property valuation declines, government entities often adjust the mill levy upward to compensate for tax dollars lost by the lower valuation.

“It’s sad to see the valuation going down,” board member Bill Allegre said.

Kansas public schools also will not see an increase in basic state aid per pupil in the coming year, Stroh said in a written report to the board.

“State aid will remain flat for 2013-2014 [at $3,838 in basic state aid per pupil],” her report said.

 With regard to the recreation commission’s budget, school board member Dennis George, the district’s representative at the ORC board meetings, said he thought the recreation commission was doing a “very exceptional job” of keeping costs in line while growing membership in the programs it offers.

The need for the 0.2-mill increase it the recreation commission’s budget, George said, was because the recreation commission saw a nearly 20-percent increase in its employee health insurance costs for the coming year.

“An insurance bill is an insurance bill — you can’t get around it,” George said. “I think the [recreation commission board and staff] have done a fantastic job. They are very thoughtful in how they spend their capital outlay, and they have been fiduciary responsible in managing tax dollars. My compliments to the entire team.”

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