In a relatively fast annual meeting of Merrill Area Public Schools electors Monday evening at the MHS auditorium, an 8.93 percent tax levy to fund the district’s 2010-11 budget was approved.
The entire meeting lasted only 45 minutes, and 18 people were in the audience in addition to the Board of Education and senior administrators on the stage.
The levy is a 4.81 percent increase over last year and will raise the $10,889,083 that administrators need to fund MAPS operations next year. It is not nearly as steep as the increase of 10.22 percent that taxpayers saw in 2009-10.
Board President Jeff Verdoorn said the increase in taxes can be traced to Madison, where the last bi-annual budget shifted a great deal of funding of schools from the state to local levels. He said while local residents want quality schools, they twice turned down referendums that would have given the district more local tax dollars to pay for them. In the wake of those two failed referendums, the district has been forced to cut even deeper into its budget.
“Community members want us to make the most of the dollars they invest in our schools. They want us to be transparent and accountable for the money we spend, and they want us to be as lean and efficient as we can be,” Verdoorn said in his opening remarks.
He said the board and administration have heard the taxpayers and have made every effort to be both transparent and accountable.
“Tonight, we will vote on the school district’s levy for the next year. As a community, this is one of the most important things we do. It is especially important – and very difficult – in the current economic situation our nation, our state, and most importantly, our local area is in,” he said. “I don’t need to tell you about the hardships that many of our community members are experiencing as a result of the economy. I am very proud of this district, and I am proud of the work the administration and this board has done in addressing both the needs of our students and the needs of our taxpayers.”
Verdoorn said that under new Superintendent Dr. Lisa Snyder, the district has taken many steps to get increased public input into the budgeting process. These steps include the creation of a Fiscal Advisory Council, started a quarterly community newsletter with information about the district, implemented staff, student, and parent surveys, and created a “District Dashboard” of measurable success indicators “to keep a laser-like focus on student and organizational success.”In addition, the district has upgraded its website and marketing materials, launched a Facebook page, and regularly submit materials to the local newspapers in an effort to further engage community.
“Over the last year, under Dr. Snyder’s direction, the district has renewed its commitment to the community as a true partner in the education of MAPS children. To that end, the district has updated its shared vision and has set strategic, measurable goals, supported by ongoing action plans,” Verdoorn said.
The proposed budget, which will be voted on by the Board in the fall at the same time as it certifies the final levy rate, is as lean as the administration could make it while impacting the quality of the education district students receive as little as possible.
“As part of our budgeting process, the district is seeking new and innovative ways to save money. One recent example is the board’s decision to switch insurance carriers for some staff, which will result in a savings of $520,000 over the next three years. How we manage our healthcare spending is the largest single budgetary item we can influence. I commend our administration and selected support staff for taking this first and very important step. We hope to partner with the remainder of our staff in the same way,” Verdoorn said.
“I am very proud of this district’s work toward continuously improving and seeking new and innovative ways to become even more efficient,” he added.
In addition to approving the resolution authorizing the levy, those in attendance also approved three others that authorized the sale of tangible school property, set the salaries and expenses of the school board members and authorized the district to provide the school lunch program. Verdoorn said those items were merely “housekeeping” items always approved at the annual meeting. He added that there is currently no property the district plans to sell and the pay of board members remains unchanged from last year.
Copies of the 2010-11 budget as well as the “State of the District” booklet can be obtained at the MAPS Central Office, 1111 N. Sales Street.