New Albany News

New Albany-Plain Local

Two levies considered for Nov. 4 election

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New Albany-Plain Local School District officials are considering two levy requests for the November general-election ballot.

School board members said May 5 the district could pursue a two-year, 6-mill operating levy and a 2-mill permanent-improvements levy. Board members did not specify a potential term for the permanent-improvements levy.

The district is facing a $5 million deficit in fiscal year 2016, according to a draft of its five-year forecast.

If approved, the operating levy would help prevent a deficit in fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

The district's most recent operating levy was approved by voters in November 2012.

That issue, a 4.24-mill continuous operating levy to generate $3.51 million annually, was paired with a 2.59-mill bond issue for $45.1 million to pay for the new school building currently under construction and site improvements. The bond and levy cost homeowners approximately $209 per year per $100,000 of assessed property value.

The district also has a 24.4-mill permanent operating levy approved in 2008 that collects $21.7 million per year. The permanent levy, which was a first for the district, costs about $750 per year per $100,000 of assessed property value.

The 4.24-mill operating levy was expected to keep the district in the black through fiscal year 2015.

When campaigning for the bond and levy, board members said they would report back to the community on the district's progress after two years. District officials referred to the permanent levy as a "two-year levy" because it would prevent a deficit only until 2014, at which time they had promised to prove their fiscal responsibility to voters.

"Clearly, we can demonstrate wholesale changes in the structure of our education," said board member Laura Kohler.

Kohler said the school board needs to be careful when asking taxpayers to invest in the district but added, "I think we should proceed because we know we've made good on our promise."

Board member Mike Klein agreed, suggesting the district use the same two-year cycle for another operating levy.

Michael Sawyers, chief of operations and strategic development, said the district needs to budget $21.5 million over the next 10 years for permanent improvements.

The most recent permanent-improvements levy expired in December 2009. Treasurer Rebecca Jenkins said the permanent-improvements fund is down to $120,000.

Sawyers' list of permanent improvements includes everything from repairing roofs and replacing heating and cooling systems to repaving parking lots and purchasing buses and textbooks. The $21.5 million in estimated costs included an annual increase for inflation and figures described as "placeholders" for technology, curriculum resources and any costs associated with recommendations from future security audits.

Superintendent April Domine said the district needs to budget an average of $1.4 million to $1.6 million annually for permanent improvements.

District officials also discussed staffing levels, which Domine called "lean," and ways to reduce costs before the board asked administrators to present the operating levy and permanent-improvements levy May 12 to the financial review and reporting committee.

The FRRC on May 12 reviewed the five-year forecast, which must be updated before May 31, per state law, but the committee did not discuss specific levy millage rates.

FRRC members requested the forecast include potential salary increases, even if solid estimates were not available, before district officials ask for any levy.

Jenkins told the FRRC the district agreed in the two recently approved union contracts to establish a committee that would make recommendations on performance-based increases. She said it would be possible to include an estimate for the increases in the forecast though it most likely would change in future updates.

Jenkins said the board will have to make a decision quickly if it plans to put an issue or issues on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The filing deadline for the November election is Aug. 6, Jenkins said, the school board would need to start considering necessary legislation as early as June.

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