At the Truth in Taxation meeting held December 1, the same night as the regular December Houston School Board meeting, several property owners from Valley High attended to voice their concerns about their increased taxes.
Valley High is considered its own little community consisting of about 45 homes. Around half of the residents are retired and on fixed incomes. Within the past year, five homes were sold for extremely high prices. This triggered an assessment of homes with most residents seeing a 70% to 80% increase in their homes’ market values.
One resident shared that her taxes went up $2,000, from $2,200 to $4,200 for the coming year. She came with questions about the school. She asked if attendance was up and was told that it had increased by 14 at the elementary, 15 at the high school, and there has been a consistent attendance for MNVA. She asked if staffing had been increased; Superintendent Mary Morem told her that counselors had been added, but funding came from a “different pot” for them. An additional administrative position had been added at the start of the year to replace elementary principal Rick Bartz who has retired.
A third question for the school board was if the purchases of the two buildings in the past year increased the taxes. The answer shared was that the money used to purchase the church was from a separate fund and the purchase of the ABLE building was funded by a bond.
Another Valley High resident emotionally declared, “I’m probably going to have to sell my house and move.” He shared that he had had someone come out and reassess his home, but the value had just come down a bit.
The Valley High residents were encouraged to talk to their legislators. Board member Arlin Peterson, who is also a realtor, urged them to do their homework ahead of time and bring along values on other comparable properties with the same square footage when they went to speak with their legislators.
The residents have already met with the county assessor. They are aware that people just across the highway from them and living in the same township are not seeing the same huge tax increases.
The school is allowed to levy the maximum amount in September and then adjust the amount in December. Houston could have levied for a .91 mill rate; they chose to levy for a .79 mill rate and expect to reduce that more in a special meeting to be held December 15. Last year the rate was .61.
During a presentation at the beginning of the meeting, Gwen Rostad, Houston Schools’ director of Finance, pointed out that state funding for schools trailed by $804 per pupil unit; this coming year it will trail by $1,263. People are urged to contact their legislators about this.
The levy is 4.4% of total revenues for the school. Houston Schools receive $677,552 in state aid; this is higher because of the online school pupils. The total revenues for the ‘22-‘23 school year budget are $28,265,067; the total expenses are $27,674,759 for a positive net of $590,208.
MNVA Germany trip
In the regular board meeting, Karla Gothan from MNVA appeared virtually to ask for the board’s blessing on a trip to Germany to take place in the summer of 2024. She led a trip this past summer as well and hopes to lead a trip every other summer. According to Gothan, WorldStrides, the new company leading the trip, was offering more hands-on activities called Leap Into Action. Students will learn what it was like to live in Germany during the Berlin Wall years as well as cook and sample genuine German cuisine. Academic credit will be offered which will enable students to get a full two years of credit at college.
The board approved the trip after asking the approximate cost, which will be about $5,000 for each student. The sign-up deadline will be in December and provide students more time to raise funds for the trip.
An annual superintendent evaluation was conducted with the board answering an anonymous survey and then, at the public meeting, sharing their thoughts. According to Josh Norlien, he felt Morem’s community engagement has been “stellar”; he called her a good mediator who was direct and to the point. Mark Swenson urged Morem to continue to improve communication, noting that it was a challenge in every organization.
Mimi Carlson applauded the online school and noted the staff was high quality and had great morale. She also noted the increased class offerings at the high school. Commenting that the school has been focused on the kids, Carlson urged the board to ensure the numbers were not neglected however.
Retiring board member Gene Lundak pointed out the school was growing academically and Morem was out in the community at many events.
The next regular meeting of the Houston School Board will be January 5 6 p.m. in the high school media center; the public is welcome to attend.