USD 398 Superintendent
This week registered voters in USD 398 will receive a mail-ballot election opportunity that will decide whether the district can increase its local option budget (LOB) and bring an additional $84,000 to the district annually.
Voters have until noon May 5 to return their ballots to the Marion County Clerk’s office. The mailing comes with a postage-paid envelope to return the ballot. Voters can also hand in the ballot at the county clerk’s office.
An LOB is funding that is raised by local property taxes for school districts. The size of a district’s LOB can be no larger than 33 percent of its general operating fund. The idea behind local option budgets is to give districts and voters some local control over school funding.
The election stems from a new law the Legislature passed that changed how state funding for schools is calculated. The state then created a means for districts to recoup at least some of the funds they lost with the new law.
Districts could raise their local option budgets from 30 percent to 33 percent by vote of their school boards with patron approval through a Mail-In-Ballot. Here are a few questions and answers about the election:
Why does the district want voters to approve a 33 percent local option budget?
Approving the three percent increase will help the district maintain current class sizes and current programming for students. Decreases in funding over the past several years have left the district searching for school improvement funds.
How will a “yes” or a “no” vote affect the dollar amount of taxes an individual property owner pays next year compared with this year?
USD 398 maintains a local option budget of 30 percent and would like the authority to go to 33 percent while our property taxes are dropping. There would be no increase in taxes. If everything else stayed the same (in the school finance formula) a “no” vote would mean only the difference of $11.50 a year on a $100,000 home, or $5.75 a year on a $50,000 home, yet it would deny the district the opportunity of $84,000 in the face of more cuts in the future.
For what will the additional $84,000 be used? What things typically can be covered by local option budget money?
Local option budget money can be used for all the same things that the general fund can be used for. That’s where we pay salaries, utilities, supplies, and everything that we need to operate the school district.
If this vote failed, what would be on the chopping block?
Everything would be considered.
USD 398 would look at staffing from a teacher standpoint, a classified staff standpoint, and administrator standpoint.
Significant cuts were made this past year that affect our success as a district. Funding for all of our programs, whether that be our at-risk programs, athletic programs, or fine arts programs, would be on the table. Hopefully cuts could be made in a fair way, so that one area would not endure all of the cuts.
Other school districts are trying the same thing — to maximize their LOB with mail-in elections. Do school districts have any other recourse to get the funding they need? Do they have no choice but to maximize local option budgets?
There is no other option from a general fund standpoint because every district pays 20 mills for a general fund and that just is distributed in the form of base state aid per pupil. There is really no other way to generate any dollars for general education purposes other than the general fund, which the state completely controls, and the LOB, which they’ve allowed us to increase a little bit providing we have voter approval.
What is your level of confidence heading into this election?
Cautiously optimistic. Board of education members and staff members certainly are not taking anything for granted and I’m trying to speak to as many people as will listen to me. I know other people in the community are trying to help as well.
The most important thing people can do is return their ballot. Just vote!