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Milton schools taxpayers give nod to surplus budget

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Neil Johnson
October 1, 2013

MILTON—At the Milton School District's annual budget meeting Monday, Superintendent Tim Schigur referred to this year in the district as “The Big Year of The Awesome.”

It may be easy to have that kind of spirit when your school district's finances appear to have stabilized.

On Monday, district taxpayers gave the nod to a tentative 2013-14 budget that includes a 3.3-percent tax levy increase. The district, for the first time in the last several school years, now boasts a tentative budget surplus of $213,000.

After the district learned this summer that the state would kick in $150 extra per student for equalization aid rather than freezing aid, it found its budget picture brightened to by more than $800,000. That has allowed the district to add back almost all of the dozen staff cuts it imposed earlier this year, when officials feared a large budget gap.

Amid the improving budget and the surplus, the district has socked away $1.1 million extra in the general fund balance, business services Director Mary Ellen Van Valin said Monday.

Schigur said it's nice to cruise into a school year without the painful specter of a money shortfall—an issue that's plagued many districts for the past two school years because of massive school funding cuts in the last state biennial budget.

“When you can go in at a budget plus, there isn't that pressure. We know we're probably not going to be in money-loss mode,” Schigur said. “So, we're not saying, 'OK, what's the program that's going to have to be cut or reduced?' On this side of the ledger, it's, 'OK, how do we now grow or evolve.' That's awesome. It changes our demeanor.”

The board is set to vote on the final budget Oct. 28.   

Schigur said that, for now, the district will hold onto its extra cash and waits for those figures to come in. However, he said the district plans to look into jumping ahead on capital improvements, and moving on further upgrades to district technology.

Schigur also said the district will review staffing through the year to decide if it needs more assistance to meet federal and state mandates and district guidelines for learning and achievement.

“We're holding cash back right now, but maybe there are some spot interventions at some of the grade levels we can improve upon,” he said. “We'll figure out how to best assist kids as we go.”

At Monday's meeting, resident Tom Neuenschwander asked about staff turnover in the district. That turnover this summer included 48 teacher retirements as staff opted out while the last year of their contracts expired. Meanwhile, 20 other teachers resigned or left for other districts.

Neuenschwander asked why the district went from spending 47 percent of its overall budget on staff to 45 percent.

Schigur explained that the decrease comes mostly from new staff hires coming in at a lower cost than outgoing staff.

The district held its annual meeting about a month later than usual this year, which some district administrators said allowed finance staff to get a better handle on its numbers.

The board asked residents for the option of holding the meeting until later in the fall next year, with board member Bob Cullen saying it would offer the district more flexibility to crunch budget numbers. That would give people more meaningful information to chew on, he said.

The turnout for the annual budget meeting, which normally numbers 200 to 250 residents, was far more modest this year. Thirty residents turned out this year, with 28 voting to approve the tentative budget.

That's likely attributable to a modest budget surplus for once—but based on the number of field combines rolling up dust and soybeans in crop fields around Milton, it's possible some district taxpayers had other matters to attend to.



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