Superintendent Jen Ulrich believes the Lonedell R-XIV School District should be able to keep its tax rate the same this year, but she also is keeping her options open just in case.
Lonedell will conduct its tax rate hearing at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 25, prior to its regular monthly board of education meeting in the conference room at the school, 7466 Highway FF.
The district’s tax rate currently is $3.69 for every $100 of assessed valuation. The amount is split into $3.48 in the incidental (operations) fund that also includes the teachers fund and 21 cents in the debt service fund.
“I’m not looking to change it,” Ulrich told The Missourian earlier this week. “At this time, I do not plan to recommend an increase in the tax rate. However, I plan to have some conversations with people to make sure we’re making the right move.”
The superintendent noted that even though the school district has operated in the red as far as its budget for the last several years, now may not be the best time to consider raising the tax levy because it has a high amount of surplus funds.
“That’s one reason I would not be comfortable raising it (tax levy),” she said.
According to district figures, estimated real estate values for the current year show $24,049,541 for residential, $3,119,432 for agricultural and $1,233,892 for commercial for a district total of $28,402,865.
These figures are through June, the latest month available.
The August 2013 numbers were a little lower. They were $23,831,314 for residential, $3.131,626 for agricultural and $1,036,676 for commercial for a district total of $27,999,616.
However, personal property assessment for 2014 is estimated to be $7,109,460, or about $680,000 less than the 2013 total of $7,789,668.
Adding everything together, the total R-XIV school district assessment is estimated to be $35,512,325 this year compared to $35,789,284 last year, a drop of about 0.77 percent.
Last year, Lonedell dealt with a 7.5 percent overall drop.
“Our district responded (to the 7.5 percent drop) by making large decisions, such as downsizing our health insurance plan for staff and also putting a hold on capital projects such as asphalt for the gym parking lot and the complete resurfacing of the playground,” Ulrich said. “In the school business, you realize that you will have years where assessed valuation may drop, but to have two years back to back is tough.”
The superintendent said that during the upcoming tax hearing, the board of education will review the district’s financial landscape of what an increase to the operating levy would generate for the district.
“But I expect we will take a voluntary rollback to keep our operating levy at $3.48,” she said. “At this time, our district’s financial reserves are healthy enough that I do not expect that we will increase the tax levy.”
Ulrich said this year, Lonedell’s tax rate ceiling has not received final approval from the state auditor’s office, but it is expected to be $3.99.
“I am speaking in terms of ‘what if,’” she said. “If this type of increase to the operating fund levy were implemented, it would generate an additional $177,561 for the operation of our district. This would recoup the losses that we have taken in local revenue and then some.
“It is not our desire to pass the burden on to our local taxpayers. However, with the continued decline in multiple revenue streams experienced by our district, it would be negligent not to communicate with our patrons and to also take a close look at our tax rate ceiling and operating levy. If the decline continues in future years, our district may be forced to more seriously consider an increase to our operating levy. I encourage all of our patrons and taxpayers to pay close attention to school funding legislation and to advocate for full funding for the state foundation formula to support our public schools.”
Using the June 2014 assessed valuation figures, the $3.48 operating levy would generate about $1,235,828.91 for the district during this fiscal year. In 2013, the total was $1,245,467.08.
In June, Lonedell approved a $4.717 million budget, which is about $186,000 in the red. It marks the fourth year in a row the district has put together a deficit-spent budget.
The 2013-14 budget was $4.828 million.
Final 2014 assessment figures should be released in August.
Back to School
The same faculty that educated students at Lonedell last year is educating them again this year as no new teachers were hired over the summer in the R-XIV district for the academic year that got underway last Thursday.
“As we begin our 2014-15 school year, we do so with anticipation and delight in knowing that our staff is prepared and in place to continue our students’ academic journey and future success,” second-year Principal Sue Emmons said.
Classes started on Thursday, Aug. 14, for the 300-plus student body.
The only new faces students saw as they started the year were maintenance person Dennis Barry and central office secretary Dana Veasman.
As far as facility changes, some asphalt work was done in the playground area, and three new tetherball poles were added. With that came the repair and sealing of the old basketball and tether areas. The kindergarten class had a makeover as well.
“Our building is looking better than ever,” Emmons said.
All security protocol also is being reviewed, Emmons said.
Technology wise, seventh- and eighth-graders will be using former eMINTS laptops throughout the school day.
In 2011, Lonedell was selected to participate in an eMINTS Validation Project. The project was a study funded with more than $12 million through the U.S. Department of Education and nearly $3 million from corporate partners.
Ulrich said as part of the study, during the 2011-12 school year, Lonedell seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms received various technological equipment, including laptops.
The goal of the program was to ensure the most transformative use of technology possible in education.
As far as classroom material, “Our staff is writing curriculum which is in line with federal and state standards,” Emmons said. “We had our last curriculum camp this summer. Activity teachers went through four rigorous days of curriculum training. Now, all members of our teaching staff have been trained. It’s awesome.”