BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison school officials are close to setting the levy rate for the upcoming year, but the rate will include the cost of the new elementary building in the event that the referendum passes on April 3.
School district Sandy Elmore told Fort Madison School Board members Monday night she was pretty much finished with the property tax portion of the budget, but was waiting for a bill that was in front of Gov. Kim Reynolds to be signed giving Iowa schools a 1% allowable growth which pushes state funding from the current year’s figure of $6,664 per pupil up $67 to $6,731.
That bill was signed into law Wednesday.
Elmore told the board the new rate she will submit for the board to certify will be $15.39. That rate is the amount of tax per $1,000 of assessed valuation minus any rollbacks or exemptions on the property. That rate compares to the $14.45 levy set for 2017-2018. The increase in the rate is to account for the passage of the school bond referendum. The district has to have that amount included because the budget has to be voted on and certified prior to the April 3 referendum vote.
When passed, the referendum would trigger a $0.97 levy, again, per $1,000 assessed valuation for the next 20 years. According to district literature, that would equate to $2.98 per month for a homeowner with a property assessed at $75,000.
If the referendum fails, the levy can be lowered because the vote to spend the money would have been defeated by district residents.
According to Elmore, if the referendum were to fail, the district can adjust the bond portion of the levy off.”
“You can always lower your levy after it’s been certified and approved, but you cannot increase it.” Elmore said.
The district is facing a $305,000 shortfall in 2018 due to fluctuations in district enrollment and state guidelines on what is called a “budget guarantee”.
Due to calculations based on 2016-17 student enrollment, which was about 70 down from 2015-16, the district was able to capitalize last year on a budget guarantee that helped them recoup losses based on the state’s per pupil funding formula. The state has to use the previous year’s enrollment on budgeting because there is no formula to predict enrollment for the upcoming fiscal year.
To simplify that concept, when a district loses 70 students, they lose the $6,600 per student in aid from the state. In those scenarios, the state gives the district a budget guarantee to offset those losses. That budget guarantee is based on the previous year’s enrollment and this year the district went up two students, so they don’t qualify for the budget guarantee.
Last year the district received $14.7 million, but the calculation this year is based on 2,143 students at the new rate of $6,731 for a total of $14.42 million with no budget guarantee, resulting in a net loss of roughly $305,000.
“That’s a concept that’s hard for the public to recognize,” said board member Dianne Hope. “Even with the media trying, it’s always been hard to explain.”
Elmore informed the board that the district’s IPERS contribution rate for the district will also be going up and Elmore is estimating approximately $100,000 in increased district contributions in this year’s budget. According to the website www.ipers.org, the district’s contribution this year is set at 9.44%, while the employee’s contribution is 6.29% for a total of 15.73%. The district’s share went up .51%, while the employees’ share increased .34%.
Elmore also hinted that health care rates or premiums could be on the rise, but said those talks are very preliminary and nothing has been finalized with regards to premiums, copays or deductibles. The district does have a cash option for employees who join their spouse’s health insurance plan.
The next regular school board meeting is set for March 19 at 6 p.m.