The Blair Community Schools Board of Education will present its budget proposal for the 2019-20 school year at a public hearing Sept. 9.
BCS is considering a lower tax levy and a slight property tax increase in 2019-20. The total property tax request is $21.3 million, which encompasses the general fund, the bond fund, special building fund and qualified capital purpose undertaking fund.
However, a 5 percent increase in property valuations had some board members questioning if the district couldn't lower the levy even more. The 2019-20 property valuations for the district is $1.8 billion. It was $1.7 billion in 2018-19.
“I think there is room for some reduction because of the 5 percent increase in valuation,” board President Kari Loseke said. “It does give us quite a bit more money that we've had in the past.”
Loseke noted the district will have more than $3 million in cash reserves.
“We talked about how three months is a nice cushion, I think it's a nice cushion in the industry to have in cash reserves,” she said. “I believe we'll have an excess of that. I believe we have an excess of it right now.”
Board member Bob Schoby agreed with Loseke.
“I think we can afford a penny and a half,” he said.
But board member Lyle Schjodt said it's important for the district to save when it has the opportunity — something he said the public reminded the board during the failed bond issue in 2016.
“We heard over and over again that we should have put money away,” he said.
Board member Brandi Petersen said the district needs to be caught up on its capital expenditures before considering lowering taxes. Petersen also cited the uncertainty from the Legislature on how it may change the tax structure and the TEEOSA formula as reasons to wait.
“I think a few years ago we were in a surplus situation — not as high as it is today — but over the next two years we don't want to dwindle that away,” Petersen said. “I feel it would be a little premature to do that given some of those factors.”
The district also needs to consider other upcoming expenditures, including salaries for paraeducators, board member Denise Ray said.
Ray noted that BCS is at the bottom of its array and that neighboring Fort Calhoun Community Schools recently boosted its wages for paras to $11.25 an hour as a base rate. Paras could earn up to $15.75 per hour.
“We're not even in that area,” she said. “We have to do something with that pay or we're going to lose good people.”
Board member Steve Callaghan, who is a former BCS teacher, also wanted to wait.
“I have seen ups and downs after almost 40 years in the school district,” he said. “We put in some pretty painful reductions last year. I think we need to see how that's going to work out during this year.”
The board approved the proposed budget 8-0. Board member Laura Ronning was absent.
Blair Community Schools by the numbers
Taxes and valuations
2019-20 total tax rate (not finalized): 1.171002
2019-20 property tax request (not finalized): $21.3M (general fund, $18.5M; bond fund, $2.1M; special building fund, $637,632; qualified capital purpose undertaking fund, $62,157)
2019-20 valuation: $1.8B
2018-19 tax rate: 1.180376
2018-19 total property tax request: $20.5M (general fund, $18.2M; bond fund $2.15M; qualified capital purpose undertaking fund, $63,212)
2018-19 valuation: $1.73B