For the two weeks prior to spring break, Howell Superintendent of Schools Enid Golden and other administrators went across the district for a series of information sessions about the proposed budget.
With the vote on the budget and the board of education elections now less than a week away, Golden said she was hopeful the information given out would help get the budget passed.
As a result of those meetings the administration put together a list of four of the most frequently asked questions. Golden said she felt this was an important step to take considering how hard the district was hit during the same process last year in regards to state aid.
While there were position cuts and programs cut or changed last year, this time around the budget looks to restore some of those positions and also restores some of the extra changes that were lost. According to the FAQ's, the district was able to do this because not only did they get just over a million dollars more in state aid than they did last year, but they were also able to streamline some of their efforts, which helped save money in other areas.
Not only did the district get a bump in state funding this year, but there was also an infusion of $1,149,592 from the Federal Education Jobs Act Funds which helped to bring back some of the cut positions. According to the administration, the district was also helped by tuition students coming into the district as well as rental income that is expected to bring in another million dollars into the coffers. That rental money includes space being used in the old Southard School.
Another question that was raised in regards to the restored position had to do with their longterm viability. With the jobs having been cut just last year, and some of them brought back this year, residents were curious as to how the district planned to keep them going forward. "We are hopeful that continuing efficiencies, increased revenue and legislative changes will allow us to retain these positions as well as continue to grow while maintaining, if not reducing, the impact on the local taxpayer," according to the information from the district.
This year's budget calls for a flat tax levy compared to the one from last year, and some residents wondered about the possible "banking," of the state allowed two percent increase. According to the administration, if districts stay below the two percent cap, they can in fact bank that amount for three straight years. Even with that being the case, the decision to use that cap bank would not be an easy one to make. "The use of any cap or cap bank would be subject to the scrutiny of the process and ultimately have to be approved by the voters," according to their answer to that question.
One of the more difficult questions to answer is how the flat tax levy will actually impact the average taxpayer in the township. While the tax levy is flat in the proposed budget, that does not necessarily mean no tax increases for the upcoming year. The tax rate, according to the administration is determined by "taking half of he amount to be raised in taxes from the last budget and adding it to half of what is proposed to be raised in this budget."
That is done because the budget for the school year straddles two calendar years. With that being the case, the half from this year in addition to the debt service is then divided by the township's "ratable base," or assessed value.
The tax rate for the proposed budget is $1.038 per $100 of assessed value. The administration said that this is an increase of less than a penny from last year and is due mostly to a reduction in ratables. Because of this it is expected the average household, depending on their own assessment will see a change of only one or two dollars more or less per month than what they paid last year.
Golden said that while the turnout for many of the information sessions was lower than she would have hoped, the administration was glad to have the chance to answer the public's questions.
Especially after what happened last year, she also said it was good to be able to deliver better news this time around. "We were impacted very severely last year," she said. "We lost over five million dollars in state aid, had a defeated budget and the town council took another million after that. "Although this doesn't 100 percent rectify it, it helps a lot."
Golden said with the flat tax levy, restored positions and other changes including eliminating a pay to play structure in middle school sports and extra curriculars , they are hopeful for a good result. "We're hopeful that this year it will be a positive outcome."
And while Golden said that the district has had difficulty getting budgets passed in prior years, she also said that the improvements that have been proposed are based on the budget going through as introduced.
School board elections are set for April 27 when the budget as well as the election for three seats to the board of education will be voted on across the district.