Germantown — A budget that in April looked pretty grim has turned itself around for the Germantown School District.
The school board approved the 2014-15 preliminary budget on Monday, July 28, without needing to account for the estimated $1.5 million deficit it faced when it discussed the budget a few months ago. Not only that, but taxes are expected to remain fairly stable, at an estimated an estimated $10.04 cents per $1,000 of equalized property value, up from $9.84 in 2013-14. The levy itself is up 2.48 percent to $28,890,911 over last year's $28,192,259.
"As with any budget process, it is always changing and evolving based on new information throughout," said Director of Business and Auxiliary Services Ric Ericksen. In this case, the evolution of the 2014-15 budget has been one with more good news than bad. While enrollment had in April been projected to decrease by 51 students, the district now faces virtually no change to enrollment, which accounts for the majority of what had been the projected budget deficit.
Instead of needing to make significant cuts to programs or staffing, the budget incorporates $64,000 in lease payments for upgrades and additions to technology throughout the district.
At a total cost of about $259,000 over the next four years, upgrades include 150 desktops at various locations for labs, 85 laptops primarily for reading intervention at elementary schools and 180 Chromebooks throughout the schools. In addition, computer workstations will be added at the Project Lead The Way lab at Germantown High School, and the district is throwing in about $70,000 toward the total cost of replacing the high school band uniforms.
Even the impact on the tax rate is something Ericksen believes will shrink in coming months.
"I'm hopeful that figure will drop for two reasons," Ericksen said. "We'll get more state equalized aid, which means we will have to levy less taxes, and also I'm hoping that the equalized tax base will increase greater than I'm estimating at a half percent."
Two board members voted against approving the preliminary budget, Tom Barney and Bruce Warnimont, who cited issues with the budget process as a whole as his reason for voting no.
"I don't believe that the people I represent would approve of the budget process," said Warnimont, who clarified he feels that the current process does not sufficiently break down and examine various components of the budget. When breaking down the budget, Warnimont said he would rather be able to identify and challenge individual components to ensure he is doing his job of being accountable to the taxpayers he represents.
"Let's say somewhere between 90 and 95 percent is fixed expense (year over year)," Warnimont said. "However, the board of directors should still challenge, and certainly should fully understand, exactly where the 'fixed' funds are being allocated, so that when the citizenry challenges the board — citizens challenge because they don't have the same opportunity to probe, it's not their job — then board members can look them in the eye and (explain.)"
While Ericksen said there is definitely something to be said for that strategy, he said efficiency as a staff is the main reason he has chosen to take prior years into consideration as the main planning component since he came on board in 2007.
"In a district this size, if you go through a zero-base budget in May when I have to start collecting information it can be a tremendous load on staff and the end result probably won't be signgifnacntly different from the allocation method that I'm using to raise the budget year over year," he explained.
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