Following quite a bit of mixed discussion, members of the Litchfield School Board approved a preliminary tax levy at the regular monthly meeting, held Tuesday evening, Nov. 14, at Litchfield High School. Board member Julie Abel was absent from the meeting.
Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger presented the 2017 tax levy, with a recommendation for a Truth in Taxation hearing. She said the Supervisor of Assessors' office was estimating a 6.9 percent increase in the equalized assessed value of property in the school district. Any increase over 4.99 percent requires a Truth in Taxation hearing.
"If we don't do a Truth in Taxation hearing, we are leaving $2 million on the table," Poffinbarger told the board. "One thing we don't want to do is leave any money on the table."
She explained her preparations of the levy to the board, deciding to use a 10.411 percent increase over last year's levy extension in order to get the maximum funding.
"You've got to jump high in order to capture everything," she said. "And we've got to capture every penny we can."
She added that the levy extension can be misleading to taxpayers, and that the district is not asking for taxes to go up.
"In fact, according to the formula, taxes should go down $.83 per $100," Poffinbarger said.
Board member Dennis Scobbie, who was the lone board member to vote against the levy, asked her to explain how property taxes would not be increased under the request, and if there were guarantees to taxpayers.
"It is difficult for people to understand, but the formulas are there," Poffinbarger said. "I hate not to do it and leave that money on the table."
Scobbie said he was worried taxpayers would feel they would be hit twice with the 1 percent sales tax increase that was approved by voters in the spring.
"But taxes aren't going up," Poffinbarger said. "I can only offer my assistance in helping them to understand."
"They're gonna hang us if taxes go up," Scobbie said.
Scobbie also asked if the district had made all cuts possible, and Poffinbarger said the education fund continues to run $600,000 in the red per year.
Board President Jennifer Reid said she didn't want property taxes to go up, and asked about the formula used to prepare the levy. Poffinbarger said that while there are several different spreadsheets, the formula for all taxing bodies remains the same. She added that in making preparations, she had at least three others help her, and all made the recommendation for the 10.411 percent levy extension increase.
Reid asked if she could talk to someone at the county office to make sure taxes would not go up, and Poffinbarger said the county only provides the estimate of what the equalized assessed value of property will be.
Board member Ron Anglin asked her how much money the district would lose if the extension was a 9 percent increase, or 8 percent.
"I've played with all those numbers," she said.
Board member Jeff Seabaugh said any number over 5 percent requires a Truth in Taxation hearing. Poffinbarger added that they likely won't get all they ask for, but if they don't guess high, they will leave money on the table.
"It's not so much what it looks like on the outside," Reid said.
Following the discussion, the board voted 5-1 to approve the preliminary tax levy, asking for $6,819,314 in property tax dollars for the district. The board will vote on the final levy at its December meeting.
In other business, the board approved the second year contract with Environmental Consultants for $13,480. The company started last year with the district in providing asbestos removal, and later asked to provide lead testing and air quality controls.
"We wanted to be progressive," said Director of Student Services Mark Hunt. "We were the very first school district in this area to do lead testing."
He said the first year of the contract was $24,390, and the second year came in considerably less.
Under the consent agenda, the board approved the monthly list of classroom volunteers, voted to pay $400,666 in bills and approved the deletion of closed session minutes from 24 months ago. In her treasurer's report, Poffinbarger told the board the district finally received the last of the categorical grant payments for special education, early childhood education and transportation from the state.
Before approving the bills, Reid asked about several of them, including one to Aramark. Hunt said he spoke to the Aramark representative, and they are cutting their service in half, except for the cafeteria.
Hunt said it would mean more work in shaking out rugs and cleaning up, but could cut their bill by up to 40 percent.
Reid also asked about the trash service, and Hunt said some districts put it out to bid, but if the district only receives one bid, they might be forced into a higher rate. She asked about the volume of trash, and Hunt said the district throws away a considerable amount of cardboard. It used to be picked up by the county for recycling, but the county no longer provides that service. Administrators tried to take the cardboard to the recycling center themselves, but there is such high volume, they are unable to do so. Board member Meg Wertin suggested they look into leasing a commercial compactor.
During the Citizens Agenda, nine kindergarten and first grade students from Madison Park Elementary School were invited to read original stories to the board members, much to the delight of everyone in attendance. Those selected include kindergarten students Sicily Lamb, Cash Logsdon and Mason Lemon and first grade students Bella Dykema, Kiera Morgan, Taylor Hampton, Mataya Melchert, Barrett Moore and Maddix Hires.
In her report, LHS Student Council President Breanna Seely said fall sports had wrapped up, and that winter sports were beginning. She said eight high school students were selected for the ILMEA district music festival on Nov. 18, and that the Veterans Day assembly on Nov. 9 was one of the best she had attended.
Poffinbarger noted that Nov. 15 is School Board Member Day, and presented each board member with a certificate and thanked them for their service.
She also provided reports from parent-teacher conferences and monthly enrollment, adding the district is up a few students over this time last year.
In a buildings and grounds report, Hunt said one of the boilers used to heat Simmons Gym and the ag classroom would have to be replaced, and that he is working on getting final figures on that. He said that overall operations and maintenance were in good shape across the district buildings, but cautioned that can change in a heartbeat if a problem arises.
Poffinbarger also asked Kurtis Land to provide a technology update to the board. He said he is working on a Rural and Low Income grant to help purchase more chromebooks at the middle school. This is the first year they have offered a one-to-one technology ratio at the high school and middle school, and the amount of broken screens was higher than they anticipated. Land said he found a vendor that can supply new glass for $100 per machine. Wertin asked how many were broken, and Land said 26. She asked about insurance, and he said insurance policies run $25 to $30 per chromebook. Land said they opted to purchase more chromebooks rather than the insurance.
Wertin asked what other districts do, and LHS Principal Doug Hoster said most assume there will be a percentage of loss. The board discussed adding a fee next year to cover the cost of insurance.
"We knew there would be bumps along the way," Poffinbarger said. "We will try to get things tidied up."
In her superintendent's report, Poffinbarger said the first round of collaboration meetings was concluded and was very productive. She said the 1 percent sales tax committee had also met and will begin walk-throughs of all the buildings.
In concluding her report, Poffinbarger presented the annual school report card, noting the scores were lower than they had hoped. She said one reason was that some of the younger students have little exposure to technology before being asked to take this test on a computer.
The district has now added special technology time each day for younger students. She said the teachers continue to work on curriculum improvements in English as well.
"No teacher is taking this lightly," Poffinbarger said. "But we have already seen some phenomenal improvements."
After meeting in closed session for nearly three hours, the board approved the monthly personnel report. All items were passed unanimously.
The board approved the resignation of high school secretary Shera Hunt, as well as seventh grade and high school head volleyball coach Mallory Millburg.
They approved the hire of Brent Stewart as assistant high school boys basketball coach, as well as Anthony Robinson and Nathan Diveley as volunteers to the program.
The board also approved a letter of intent to retire from Director of Student Services Mark Hunt, effective after the 2021-2022 school year.