New Albany News

School board's millage decision expected July 28


New Albany-Plain Local school board members on July 28 are poised to decide the amount of a levy on the Nov. 4 ballot, but they say they haven't had much input from residents.

At the most recent listening session July 14, board member Natalie Matt said no one spoke to board members at either scheduled session.

She said she is hearing that no one really wants taxes to increase.

District officials are considering three permanent operating-levy options, with cost estimates and annual collection estimates from the Franklin County Auditor's Office:

• An 11-mill levy, that would generate $9,149,524 annually and cost a homeowner $385 per year per $100,000 of assessed property valuation.

• A 6.9-mill levy, that would generate $5,739,247 annually and cost a homeowner $241.50 per year per $100,000 of assessed property valuation.

• A 4.9-mill levy, that would generate $4,075,697 annually and cost a homeowner $171.50 per year per $100,000 of assessed property valuation.

All three continuous levy options would be combined with a 2-mill, continuous permanent-improvements levy and would be listed on the Nov. 4 ballot as one levy with two purposes.

District officials have said a 4.9-mill levy would require the district to make cuts over the next two years, a 6.9-mill option would allow the district to continue its progress and movement on the strategic plan and an 11-mill option would allow the district to move faster in completing its strategic plan.

Matt said it sounds to her as if residents want the district to maintain programming and not request extra funds to implement portions of the strategic plan more quickly, which could be accomplished with the 11-mill levy option.

Board Vice President John McClelland agreed with Matt, saying many residents understand there is a cost to living in a good school district.

He also agreed residents do not want to see their taxes go up but they also don't want the quality of the schools to suffer.

School board President Mark Ryan asked if it made sense to ask voters for money and still make cuts for the 4.9-mill levy option.

Board member Laura Kohler said she knows a lot of people whose children already have graduated, and they are concerned about taxes in general and are frustrated with the state's school-funding system, which she called unsustainable.

Kohler said many constituents also have told her they are pleased with the district's progress.

Board member Michael Klein said the middle ground -- the 6.9-mill option -- may be the best because it would allow the district to continue to move forward on the strategic plan, investing in the education people "moved here for."

Kohler asked Treasurer Rebecca Jenkins for information on the number of staff members who would have to be cut if the levy did not pass.

Kohler said though it can be seen as a threat if that information is given out before the election, residents need to understand how a rejected levy request would affect the district.

Jenkins said school boards often approve a list of cuts before a levy goes on the ballot so voters know what to expect.

District officials say an operating levy would prevent the district from a $5 million deficit in fiscal year 2016.

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

The district's list of permanent improvements, which includes everything from repairing roofs and replacing heating and cooling systems to repaving parking lots and purchasing buses and textbooks, is expected to total $21.5 million over 10 years.

The most recent operating levy approved by voters in November 2012 is a 4.24-mill measure that generates $3.51 million annually.

The 4.24-mill levy was paired with a 2.59-mill bond issue for $45.1 million to pay for a new school building and site improvements. The bond and levy cost homeowners $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 homeowners about $750 per year per $100,000 of assessed property value.