MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon City Schools have placed an emergency operating levy on the November ballot. The district is asking voters to approve an additional 4.72 mills in property taxes to pay for day-to-day expenses such as salaries and benefits, supplies and materials, fuel and utilities for its high school, middle school and six elementary schools. If passed, individuals with a home valued at $100,000 will pay an additional property tax of $149 a year for five years.
The district’s general operating fund is $30,700,000 for fiscal year 2013, which is a 7 percent reduction as compared to the amounts spent in fiscal year 2011. “Like any organization whose main purpose is to provide a service,” said treasurer Judy Stahl-Reynolds, “the cost of people always makes up the biggest part of the budget. Salaries and benefits comprise 78 percent of the district’s expenses.”
Revenues into the general fund have decreased. Funds from the state school foundation program have been reduced by about 8 percent, Stahl-Reynolds said, and the loss of funding from the commercial activities tax was more than $400,000 between fiscal years 2011 and 2012. The loss of funds from students who are residents of the district but enrolling elsewhere is expected to be $912,000 for the current school year, and community school payments will approach $900,000.
“We need the money that we are requesting in order to provide the quality of education that we believe our community expects,” Stahl-Reynolds said.
Although voters approved a five-year renewal of a 1.38-mill property tax levy last November, the district has not received a general fund increase since 1996.
“We are grateful for the levy renewals,” said Superintendent Steve Short. “We understand the economic situation, but some expenses we cannot control. For example, gas is now almost $4 a gallon and diesel fuel has gone up 40 percent over the last three years.”
“The board and administration try to be the best stewards of the taxpayers’ money as is possible,” said Short. “We’ve cut our expenses to the same level of spending as the 2006-07 school year.”
For example, between fiscal years 2011 and 2012, Mount Vernon schools reduced staff costs by more than $1 million.
“Over the last four years, we have not replaced 25 teachers,” said Short. “The high school and middle school are sharing some teachers. Administrators are doing double duty and principals have picked up duties previously performed by central office staff. Staff salaries have been frozen for the last two years, and staff members are now paying 22.27 percent of their health insurance premiums.”
“School is more than just inside the four walls of the classroom,” Short added. “We try to provide programs we believe the community wants its children to have, such as National Honor Society, band and the high school play. We want to be able to continue to make it possible for students to participate in those activities. They are the next generation and will be taking care of us in the future.”
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