Robinson Unit 2 board members began preparations for the annual tax levy even as more financial bad news came in from the state.
The board Monday adopted a tentative tax levy. The levy - the amount of property tax revenues the district wants to raise during the coming year to pay its expenses - is based on a districtwide Equalized Assessed Valuation of $400 million, although the actual taxable value of the entire district is believed to be much less.
This year's levy exceeds the actual amount of taxes collected by more than 105 percent, which means a public hearing on it will be before the Dec. 17 school board meeting. Although it is higher, that does not necessarily mean property owners will be paying more in taxes, Superintendent Josh Quick pointed out.
Under state law, a school board must set its levy high enough to get every penny of tax money to which it is entitled based on the equalized assessed value of all property within its boundaries. This can be tricky because the levy must be set before the board knows for sure what the EAV will be for the coming year. If the EAV turns out to be higher than expected, the board can not come back and increase the levy to match it. In other words, it will not be able to collect taxes on the full value of the district.
On top of that, the state will penalize a district that sets its levy too low by docking its general state aid, board President Dennis Inboden pointed out.
"Going too low is dangerous," Inboden said.
"I'd rather err on the high side, rather than on the low," board member Bill Ecton added.
To keep from falling short, Unit 2 traditionally bases its levies on higher-than-anticipated EAVs. This year, for example, the EAV is tentatively estimated at $287 million, but the board, believing it might turn out to be higher, based the levy on an EAV of $400 million.
Quick explained the board based the levy on an EAV that would actually provide the full amount of money Unit 2 will need during the 2013-14 school year, including enough to cover the $1.5-million deficit anticipated in the Education Fund.
Meanwhile, "the gloom and doom from the state just keeps coming," Quick said.
During the recent Illinois Association of School Boards convention in Chicago, Unit 2 board members learned the state may only pay 80 percent of the aid money it will owe schools this year. For Unit 2, that means the loss of about $250,000.
"It's not looking good," Treasurer Cindy Beard said.
So, with the district looking at falling about 15 percent short of having enough money to pay its bills, the board is looking at different ways to trim expenses and boost revenues. "We're trying hard to avoid any sudden moves," Quick said, adding no one thing will be enough to correct the situation.
The board is also trying to avoid the perception it is adding more expenses. That is why members will hold off until after the first of the year before deciding on a proposal for fall baseball at Nuttall Middle School.
Fall ball would give students who are not interested in football or cross country an outlet of their own. Under the proposal presented by Mark Harmon of the Crawford County Babe Ruth league, the two-year pilot program would cost Unit 2 nothing.
The league would run the program and even provide the diamond at Robinson City Park. It would also follow all Illinois Elementary School Association regulations.
Inboden liked the idea, pointing out the successful Robinson High School wrestling team started out as a club, not a school sport. He even suggested with education funding shrinking, such clubs might be "the wave of the future" for school sports. Still, he thought it best to wait.
In a related matter, the board agreed to send notice to the Southern Illinois Junior High Conference that NMS would be withdrawing from it. It is applying for membership in the Little Eastern Illini Conference, which is affiliated with the group Robinson High School joined. The switch is expected to save travel time and expense.
The board also received a report showing how Unit 2 is cooperating with other area schools to maximize efficiency and cut costs. It shares personnel and professional development with the other three county districts, is part of South Eastern Special Education and the Twin Rivers Regional Vocational System and purchases food and cleaning supplies through co-ops.
In personnel matters, the board hired Pam Aten as an NMS kitchen helper, Dean Aten as an NMS cafeteria supervisor and Dana Wachtel as the RHS Drama Club sponsor. Board members approved splitting the Lincoln Elementary School music stipend between Mindy Evans and Karen Sainer and accepted Mario Johnson as a volunteer manager for the RHS wrestling team.