School board raises tax rate

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Mandated raises for teachers and higher prices create budget problems

By Molly Haines

Due to cuts in funding and mandated salary increases, the Owen County School Board has decided to increase its 2010 tax rate.

The board voted to take the 4-percent increase. This year’s real estate rate will be 56.6, up from last year’s rate of 54.8. The personal property rates have dropped from last year’s rate of 60.4 to 58.8. The motor vehicle rate and utility tax rate will remain the same.

Owen County Board of Education Finance Officer Sheila Miller said the Owen County school district is not the only district to experience a budget problem.

“Even though districts across the state have experienced cuts in funding, our expenses have not decreased,” Miller said. “We were mandated by the state to give employees a 1-percent salary increase, which was not funded at the state level.”

Miller said the increase will generate an additional $140,000 for the district.

“We will be budgeting tax revenue based on a 94-percent collection rate,” Miller said. “Approximately $102,000 of that amount will be generated by the 4-percent collection rate. The remainder will be generated by the addition of new property.”

Owen County School Board Superintendent Mark Cleveland said by taking the 4-percent rate, the district will be able to pay its bills.

“The tax rate is one of the few ways we are able to generate funds,” Cleveland said. “It’s one of the few funding sources we have at our disposal and helps us to stay fully operational.”

Miller said the mandated salary increase would cost the district $120,000, which includes rank and experience increases.

The district has also experienced an increase in retirement for classified employees.

“The rate for classified employees’ retirement increased from 13.5 percent last year to 16.16 percent this year,” Miller said. “This alone will cost the district more than $50,000. Our kindergarten enrollment is more this year than it has been in several years, which led to the addition of one certified teacher and instructional assistant. Cost for this is nearly $60,000.”

Because of an increase in students with special needs, an additional certified employee was hired, Miller said.

The rising cost of fuel and utilities will add another $65,000 to the budget.

Miller said by raising the tax rates, the district will be able to continue providing first-class instruction

“The additional revenue generated by levying this rate will enable the district to continue providing the best instructional opportunities our budget can offer,” Miller said. “Even though our state funding has decreased, we still have to provide services to all students and be able to maintain our school buildings, grounds and funding for transportation.”

Cleveland said since the district began experiencing cuts in funding, the district has made every attempt to get more bang for its buck.

“Our staff has done more with less over the past few years,” Cleveland said. “But that doesn’t mean that our students shouldn’t get the same as other districts.”

Miller said taking the 4-percent increase was a difficult decision for board members to make during a recession.

“I agree our board of education made the best decision,” Miller said. “This board is committed to the children of Owen County and to providing the best educational opportunities possible. No one wants to pay additional taxes but our kids must come first if we want them to become productive members of society. We must remember that today’s students are the future leaders of this county, state and country. They deserve the very best we can give them.”