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Whitko to push forward with ballot referendum

September 3, 2010

Post & Mail photo/Chris Meyers Whitko Community Schools Superintendent Steve Clason speaks Thursday about the district’s financial situation.

     A plan from Whitko Community Schools to have a referendum on the ballot this fall for a tax levy increase is still a go, but the district will only increase the tax rate if there is a shortfall in funding from the state.
     After news that the district will get $347,000 in federal education stimulus funding for the next school year, the district will likely not need to do an increase in its tax rate until at least 2012.
     Any increase to the tax rate would not  be collected until the following year.
School officials hope this round of stimulus money will be in addition to the planned state funding, unlike the last time.
     “Instead of sending us the $500,000 (in state money) in June, they sent us $500,000 in federal money and kept the other $500,000. We didn’t get any extra stimulus money,” said Steve Clason, superintendent of Whitko Community Schools.
     Since the referendum allows the district up to seven years to raise the tax rate, an increase won’t go into effect until absolutely needed.
     “We don’t want to raise property taxes, that’s not what we want to do,” unless it’s the final straw, Clason said.
     The board voted 4-0-1 to leave the referendum on the ballot this fall, but to not increase the tax rate unless there is a shortfall from the state. Board member Jorell Tucker abstained from the vote.
     He said he didn’t want to vote in favor of leaving the referendum on the ballot unless the district knew whether it could not be removed from the ballot.
     Board member Roger Boggs said he didn’t want to try to remove the referendum from the ballot because he didn’t want to run the risk of needing a new referendum to increase the tax rate in the next seven years.
     If the referendum is not done in a general election year, the district will have to pay for the special election, something other board members do not want to do.
     With the referendum still on the ballot, the district has a seven-year window to increase the tax rate up to 20 cents per $100 of assessed value in property.
     The planned levy increase is 12.5 cents, if and when it needs to be put in place.
     So long as the money from the recently-passed “jobs bill” makes it to Whitko and there are no further cuts in state funding, as promised by Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett, an increase in the district’s tax rate will likely not occur in the next year or two.
     Whitko has a balanced budget for 2011, but it came at the cost of massive financial cuts, including 26 staff positions.
     “We had to cut $1.25 million from our budget to get there,” Clason said.
     The district also has 40 fewer students this year, than the projected 20, which also means less funding from the state.

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