HSSD board approves preliminary budget of $86 million
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico school board agreed on a preliminary budget of more than $86 million with a levy of $25.6 million for the 2018-19 school year at the Monday, Sept. 10 meeting.
Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations, said the district will have no problem honoring its commitment to taxpayers to lock the mil rate at $9.19 per $1,000 of equalized value this budget cycle.
“We’re in great shape,” Spets said. “I couldn’t be more proud, from a CFO perspective of where we’re at, of this foundation. We have never had this fiscal reality.”
When the district planned the successful referendum, it did not factor any help that might come from the state legislature, as that was unknown during the planning process.
“The low revenue ceiling adjustment, which we talked about last year especially during the referendum work in the community, that of course did come into effect,” Spets said. “So our low revenue limit has been increased, plus an increase in categorical aide… basically equates to about $1.9 million more for us this year just related to these two measures.”
The $1.9 million increase stems from the amount the state pays per member student increasing $140 to $9,400, plus an enhanced $650 per member student categorical aid.
“We have less flexibility at this point in time than we actually did in my three previous Septembers for you,” Spets said. “It will be more difficult to hit the $9.19… So yes more revenue, but it provides a challenge to keep our commitment to the (property) owners in the district.”
Spets said this means the district could very well levy for less than the additional $5.85 million that it was granted when the referendum passed in April.
The second area Spets dived into was how this year’s budget will fund the updated Compensation 2020 Plan, which was part of the referendum.
Because of the referendum, the district was able to invest $1 million in teacher salaries alone. In doing so it level set 208 teachers and gave all returning employees a 2.89 percent increase on salary or wage. That will be included in this budget.
“Personally, the night of the referendum was a highlight for me not because it was a victory, but because of all that effort, energy, the coaching, the teaching, the work on Compensation 2020 was then able to be realized,” Spets said
The third point Spets brought to the board was a stable tax rate.
“Today I can confidently say we’ll recommend the board adopt a $9.19 tax rate again,” he said. “That was our commitment to the taxpayers and it looks good today.”
Teresa Ford, board president, did voice some concerns that even though the tax rate will remain the same some homeowners in the area could potentially see an increase in taxes because of an increase in the equalized value of their property.
“We want our residents to be able to look at their tax bill and understand it,” Ford said.
Spets said the district would be outside of its boundaries in helping residents understand their property tax bill.
“We have no control over that. We wouldn’t explain that. It’s not our job to do that,” he said.
Superintendent Damian LaCroix said the board can discuss at a later date the possibility of changing some of the wording in the budget document to make it more understandable to the average citizen.
Mark Ashley, board vice president agreed that the document in its current state would be difficult to comprehend.
“This wouldn’t be an effective communication outside of this room,” Ashley said.
The preliminary approval, which passed unanimously, is the first step the board must take toward a finalized budget.
The annual meeting and budget hearing will be at the Sept. 24 meeting. The budget and tax levy will be approved Oct. 22, and the budget will be finalized June 24.