School district levy up 1.15 percent

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

School District 831 will levy at most $17,223,538 to property tax payers in 2014. This is 1.15 percent higher than last year’s levy amount of $17,028,055.

At the Sept. 17 meeting, the School Board voted unanimously to certify the maximum tax levy. Board President Rob Raphael was absent. The vote was taken with no data presented and no discussion.

Because the school district operates on a fiscal year of July 1 to June 30, and because the state is involved in setting the budget, the procedure differs from that used in cities, counties and watershed districts. The budget is prepared in the spring of the current fiscal year, but the school district still must certify the levy in time for the county to issue property tax statements for homeowners.

The Minnesota Department of Education reviewed the levy proposal and notified the district of its approval on Oct. 1.

The truth-in-taxation public hearing will be Thursday, Dec. 5, after which the board will set the final levy. The finance committee, but not the entire board, will see the numbers before the public hearing.

The district recently initiated a new Q-Comp plan to increase teacher training and reward effective teachers. The plan was approved by the Department of Education last summer, and the teachers ratified it on Sept. 26. The plan was supported by 85 percent of the teachers voting, with 299 in favor and 56 against.

Early in 2014, a Q-Comp coordinator will be hired by promoting a current district employee. That person will see a salary increase that, with benefits, is expected to cost the district $50,291 on top of the person’s current salary.

The coordinator’s old position, whether teacher or administrator, will also be filled.

For the months of March through May, the 2013-2014 budget will increase by the additional amount paid to the new coordinator ($12,500 for one-fourth of the year) plus the salary of the person replacing the coordinator for those three months.

The Q-Comp coordinator then will help the district hire nine peer coaches from the teacher ranks, at a cost of $425,815 in salary augmentation and benefits. This cost will be part of the 2014-2015 budget, because peer coaches will begin work at the start of that school year.

Had Department of Education approval come earlier, September 2013 would have been the start date. Now that Q-Comp will be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year, taxes payable in 2014 are reduced by $615,797.

The decision by the state of Minnesota to fund all-day, every-day kindergarten, after District 831 had already voted to do that on its own, does not affect the levy, Martini said.

“Kindergarten funding is not a specific line item in our property taxes, so there is no amount attributable to that, and therefore it has no effect on the property tax levy.”

The school budget is based largely on the number of pupils. After years of decline, last year’s enrollment held steady. But this fall, the final count in September showed a drop of 76 students overall, even though elementary enrollment was up by about 15. This change affects the current school year revenues.

At the Oct. 3 meeting, the School Board voted to join Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District beginning in November 2013. This will have no effect on the 2014 levy, Martini said, but a year from now, the levy will increase by about half of 1 percent to pay the 916 membership fee.

  • Raising taxes to the maximum allowed by state law and “The vote was taken with no data presented and no discussion.” That is poor management on part of the administration and board.