On December 7, the Houston School Board held their mandatory Truth in Taxation meeting as well as their regular board meeting. Director of Finance Gwen Rostad presented a slideshow of information before opening the floor for questions. Rostad pointed out that there are no voter approved levies in place at this time for Houston. This is unusual—most schools have levies in the area. As usual, the state aid does not keep up with inflation, resulting in the discrepancy needing to be covered by property taxes. State aid is given to the school in relation to the student population; in this way MNVA helps Houston’s budget. Property taxes amount to 4½ % of Houston’s revenue compared to the 7% other districts need.
This year due to switching from HVED services to their own SPED services, federal funding has been delayed. The board is confident that providing their own SPED services will ultimately save the district money.
Board Chair Mimi Carlson informed the public that the board is working on a “three year roadmap,” a strategic building plan. They are looking into adding items to the LTFM (long term facility maintenance) plan. The state covers 89% while Houston pays only 11% of expenses of keeping up the buildings.
The reason LTFM is so favorable is that funding is based on all students enrolled in Houston; this includes MNVA with its 1,900 to 2,000 students.
As they have done historically, the board set their levy near the maximum amount in order to be able to take advantage of possible adjustments by the state. If the levy was set too low, it could not be raised at a later date. The board did this with the intention of lowering it again before finalizing the levy. This year, that levy ended up showing 54% on the tax statements that went out to the residents which understandably alarmed residents. This was the proposed tax only; the board plans to reduce the levy to the same tax rate as last year.
This does not mean, however, that residents’ taxes will be the same dollar amount. In recent years, several homes in the Houston School District sold at extremely high prices. This resulted in property values in the district changing drastically according to board member Arlin Peterson.
Another factor is that Houston does not have much commercial property to help bear the brunt of taxes; as a result homeowners end up paying more.
The Houston County Assessor Luke Onstad attended the Truth in Taxation meeting and spoke up after most of the residents asked their questions. He noted that there was a common misconception that if your property values increase, your taxes go up. Onstad pointed out that what affects taxes is spending. Your value simply determines the percentage of the total tax you pay. If only your value goes up while others remain the same, then you pay more.
Residents who feel their property has been assessed inaccurately are encouraged by Onstad to come in and request an individual reassessment of the property.
Onstad emphasized that per capita Houston School has the lowest tax levy of all schools in Houston County.
Regular Board Meeting
At the regular meeting the board heard from Amy Kulas, a parent of athletes. Kulas encouraged the board to supply transportation to and from co-op sports such as wrestling. She pointed out that Houston has nine wrestlers this year who comprise a third of the team. Neither Caledonia or Houston would have enough wrestlers to fill the weight brackets on their own.
The board decided later in the meeting to provide transportation to and from practices during the winter season and would assess the need for spring sports transportation at their February meeting.
Tina Beckman, Kristie Fingerson, Nick Hoff, Brenda O’Hare as well as student teacher Owen King were recognized as Hurricane Heroes for their work on the Veterans Day Program.
SPED teacher Amber Kulig presented a report on the SPED program. At this time they are emphasizing due process compliance and MTSS (multi-tiered systems of support). SPED teachers are working with regular education teachers to offer a full continuum of support.
Later the board approved restructuring the SEAC (special education advisory council) parent group to a more informal structure to encourage more parent participation.
The board agreed to allow computer sell back to graduating students. Legally, the computers would need to be advertised in the paper first.
Levy certification was delayed until the special meeting on December 21. A resolution for combining polling places for special and general school elections not held the same day as a statewide election was approved. The Hurricane Hub was named as the polling location.
After closing the meeting to discuss negotiations, the board reopened the meeting to unanimously approve the new teacher contract. The total package provides a raise of 8.9% over the next two years. This contract had already been approved by 98% of the teachers.
The next regular board meeting will be January 4 at 6 p.m. in the media center; the public is welcome.