FRISCO - The Summit Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to go to the voters with a school funding measure in November.
Faced with the near certainty of continued declines in revenue next year, the local school district will ask voters to help make up the difference with a $2.1 million mill levy. The annual cost to a property owner with a $400,000 home would be $34.50.
Property taxes and other sources of school funding continue to wane as a result of the recession. While exact numbers aren't yet available, the most recent projections from the state have local school officials preparing for a drop of about $2 million next year and for further cuts the following year. The district already frozen teacher pay and cut $867,000 out of this school year's budget.
"This is about financial survival," board member Alison Casias said.
During Tuesday night's meeting, the board agreed not to include a component in the ballot question that would have funded the district's bus-replacement program. The proposal would have asked voters for an additional $365,000 annually - about $6 per year for the owner of a $400,000 home - which would have paid for two to three buses per year, as old buses reach 200,000 miles or 15 years in age.
According to assistant superintendent Karen Strakbein, the district's capital reserve fund will be able to cover needed bus replacements for the next four to five years. After that though, a large proportion of the school bus fleet will come due for replacement.
"I don't think it's responsible of us to put something in front of the voters that's not urgent," board member J. Kent McHose said. "We have to be sensitive and do our belt-tightening."
Several board members were conflicted about leaving out the bus-replacement component.
"I don't doubt that we're in survival mode, but having to replace 10 buses in four to five years really freaks me out," said Sheila Groneman, the board's vice president. "It doesn't feel frivolous at all to me to go to voters for transportation needs."
Nevertheless, the board eventually decided unanimously to exclude buses from the ballot, citing a desire to keep the tax bill as low as possible for local property owners while still providing schools with adequate funding; board members further reasoned that financial conditions could change significantly in the next half-decade.
Voters will notice the ballot language for the proposed mill levy carries a larger price tag than the much-discussed $2.1 million. The top of the question asks voters for $5.7 million. However, voters would not see their property taxes increase to fund the schools at that level, were the measure to pass: That piece is a shield against the impacts of Amendment 61, which will appear on the statewide ballot in November.
Amendment 61 would require the district to make a substantial cut to its mill levy. So the piece of the local measure that asks for $3.5 million would merely keep the local mill levy intact if 61 passes. Failure of 61 would void that component of the local question.
SDN reporter Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.