Staples-Motley School District levy up 5.8 percent
On a split vote the Staples-Motley School Board approved a 5.8 percent increase in the 2016 tax levy, payable in 2017, at their meeting Dec. 19.
Roy DiGiovanni and Dave Hoemberg were opposed to the motion. Bruce Lund, Mary Freeman, Chad Longbella and Bryan Winkels voted in favor of that option.
Four levy options had been reviewed and discussed at the Dec. 5 work session. The news story of that meeting was published in the Dec. 8 Staples World. Two options were for higher levy increases. The fourth was for less.
All options considered included underlevying, that is, reducing the levy in some areas to an amount less than the maximum. If those levy areas go over the levied amount, the difference must come from the general fund.
Questions at that time included funding for Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB); QComp, which sets aside funds for staff devlopment, teacher mentors and professional learning groups; and how taxes in the Staples-Motley district compare with other districts in the area.
As part of the Truth in Txation levy and budget public discussion, Patty Vacek, district business manager, presented information provided by the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) explaining factors that affect property taxes and how changes in state law affected the basic education formula and equalization.
Vacek included the charts comparing the Staples-Motley School District’s portion of property taxes compare to other districts and with the state average.
Estimates for a $100,000 homestead residential property show that, out of nine area districts, only the Pine River Backus School District levies less than the Staples-Motley District.
Estimates for a one-acre non-homestead agricultural property valued at $4,000 show that two districts, Pine River-Backus and Sebeka, levy less than the Staples-Motley District.
DiGiovanni questioned the figures on the agricultural property, wondering if it was based on potential value.
“Farmland income is down drastically,” he noted.
Hoemberg questioned all the graph figures, saying “Those graphs, you can make them to fit, depending on who you want to sell it to.”
Vacek also reviewed 2015-16 budget revenue and expeditures compared to the estimated budget for 2017.
The total levy approved was for $1,788,660.26, which reflected an underlevy of $101,792.66.
Mary Reedy of CliftonLarsonAllen presented the school district’s audit report for the fiscal year 2015-16 noting they were issuing an unmodified, clean opinion.
Two areas of concern were noted, both related to the size of the district and number of people in the business office.
Reedy suggested there should be more segregation in duties and also that more internal control was needed over financial statement preparations. She also understood those are issues common in smaller school districts and that there are new people in key positions in this district. She said the auditing firm will work with Vacek to put plans in place to mitigate those areas.
The report showed that sources of revenue for the district. The state portion is 74 percent, local tax collection is 11 percent, other local revenue is eight percent and federal revenue is seven percent.
The breakdown of expenditures for the district show instruction at 54 percent; pupil support at 13 percent; site, building and equipment at nine percent; administration and capital outlay at five percent each; debt service at four percent; community education, instructional support and district support at three percent each; and fiscal program at one percent.
Reedy noted that the district seems to have higher administration and district support per student than the state average or other districts of similar size. However, as she looked at the specific cost codes that contribute to those figures, she found some coding different from what she sees in other districts. She will continue to work with Vacek to examine and possibly reclassify some of those codes.
The board voted to accept the report.
In other business, the board:
o Decided to table action on the 2017-18 school calendar when questions arose regarding early out days and work days for staff. Dave Hoemberg and Mary Freeman volunteered to meet with the calendar committee to reveiw the concerns and bring recommendations to a future meeting.
o Accepted retirement requests from Cindy
Sorenson and Diana Reed at Staples-Motley Elementary.
o Approved contracts for Kayla Vejtasa and Jeanne Odden as paraprofessionals, Jim Rollins as bus driver and Josi Longbottom as accounts payable.
o Approved maternity leave request from Kaycia Ellingsen for the spring.
o Offered their appreciation to Roy DiGiovanni for his service on the school board. He chose not to run again and the Dec. 19 meeting was his last.
o Heard in Superintendent Mary Klamm’s report that appointments will be set for the board to interview facilities assessment firms on Jan. 30.
o Klamm also reported on a number of grants received by the agriculture department.
o Heard a report from incoming board member Greg Frisk on a workforce conference he attended at National Joint Powers Alliance.