Proposed Tuesday was a hike of 1.83 mils, which would give the school system a millage rate of 15.35 for the 2004-2005 school year. This past year’s millage was 13.526.
In previous meetings, concerns about state cutbacks had school officials worried that a hike of 2 mils or more might be needed. However, while the state did make cuts, the funding situation was not as severe as had been feared.
This millage increase is sought despite the fact that many cuts have been made in the school system’s operating costs, including personnel. Several positions have been left unfilled or eliminated by attrition.
The proposed Fiscal Year 2005 budget - at $42,687,192 - represents a total increase of just $129,709 over FY2004 spending.
“It’s only 3/10 of a percent increase over last year’s budget,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Jean Rhoades said. “This is very low because in previous meetings approximately $1.4 million in savings had already been identified.”
Unfortunately, at the same time the local school system was making cuts and trying to trim its budget, the state was making cuts, too. A number of state-funded projects and programs have been cut or had funding reduced.
The state also initiated a 2-percent pay raise for teachers that takes effect in fall. The pay raise by itself amounts to an increase of about $527,000 in the school system’s payroll.
Most of the 2-percent raise will be funded by state money, however, some positions in the Polk School District are locally funded, and the salary increase will have to be paid for by local money.
According to a proposed budget presented to the board Tuesday night, the school system must generate $1,370,000 in additional local money to make up the differences, plus fund necessary increases elsewhere in the budget.
Assuming the county tax digest grows at the projected 3 percent, this additional local money can be raised with the proposed 1.83 mil hike.
At 15.35 mils, the local school system’s tax rate will still be much lower than school systems in some neighboring counties, where property owners are taxed at between 17 and 19 mils. The state cap is 20 mils.
School board members have been reluctant to raise property taxes in Polk County. In fact, the board rolled back the millage in previous years as the tax digest grew.
However, successive state cuts in education funding to local school systems have taken a toll, school officials said.
Last year, the school system started the year at about 13 mils. However, the board approved a half-mil tax hike in September to make up for mid-year state budget cuts — the result of lower-than-projected state tax revenues.