Bethel school district discusses levy

By Megan Alley

On Nov. 8, voters in the village of Bethel will be asked to decide on a 6.6 mill five-year emergency school levy.
The Bethel-Tate Board of Education unanimously approved putting the levy on the November presidential election ballot during the board’s meeting on April 19.
The levy is expected to generate about $1.1 million per year.
“We do feel like the $1.1 million will keep us at status quo,” Treasurer Karen Royer said. “Obviously we don’t want to cut positions.”
The levy will cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $20 per month.
“If the levy is approved, we will avoid deficit spending for about five years, to the year 2020,” Royer explained. “We’ll have just enough money to keep us from being in the red, but we’ll still have to watch our pennies because there are costs that come up that you can’t anticipate.”
One area of continued cost increases is special education.
“People don’t realize the cost of special education,” Royer said. “For instance, we can suddenly have an unexpected influx of students who require special education services, and we can try to appropriate enough money in those areas, but sometimes it’s not enough.”
In addition to unanticipated costs, the school district’s budget could be hit hard by anticipated cuts in state funding.
Currently, state funding, with rollback, makes up about 69 percent, or $10.2 million, of the school district’s funding. Local funding, with public utility contributions, makes up about 20.4 percent, or $3 million.
“We keep hearing the state guarantee could go away,” Royer said. “If we continue to lose enrollment and state funding is no longer guaranteed, we could lose money.”
She added, “We’re hoping the guarantee stays in place; we’re continuing to monitor the situation.”
Royer further explained that the levy amount was determined with the assumption that state funding will be maintained at its current level.
“We know we are going to have to increase our local funding to stay solvent,” Royer said.
During the meeting, Royer presented the results and recommendations of a performance audit, which was conducted by the state auditor’s office. The report calls for a reduction in staffing to manage the school district’s budget deficit.
Charles Napier, board member, said the audit provided an unbiased look at the school district’s situation and options moving forward.
“We’ve been turning over rocks to find money for what seems like a long while now,” Napier said. “I think we’ve done a good job of cutting the low hanging fruit, if you will, as far as getting down to where we’re at now.”
He added, “I think it’s good to be able to go out to the public, when we’re seeking a levy, to say we’re not telling you that we need money, the state is telling us that we need money.”
Bethel has not passed a school operation levy since 1989, according to Royer. Since then, the school district opened an additional building, Bethel-Tate High School.
“We’re operating four buildings with money from the past and a budget meant for three buildings,” Royer explained.
Looking ahead, supporters of the levy will begin forming a campaign team, a strategy and a timeline, according to Melissa Kircher, superintendent.
“I think we are going to be challenged, but I am optimistic the levy will pass,” Royer said.
If the levy doesn’t pass, the school district will have to make additional cuts.
“We haven’t determined which areas we’ll cut; we’re hoping we don’t have to go there,” Royer said.
Royer conceded that there would likely be staffing cuts.
“Your staff is your best commodity and also your most expensive.”
Parent Brandy Pryor is concerned that if the levy fails, the school district might be forced to reduce instruction time, a measure Royer described as a “last resort.”
“It’s a key point that would probably need to be made to the public, because you’re either factoring in the cost of the levy or $150 to $200 a week [extra] in childcare, which is what it what it could be if this levy couldn’t pass,” Pryor said.
“It’s a sales point and something that needs to be considered, so if we have a number of families, or children it would affect, that is something that needs to be addressed and stated to the general public,” she added.
Kircher agreed, “You’re absolutely right, if the school day changes, it does change childcare and that would need to be communicated to the public.”