School levy drops by 8 percent

           The Independent School District 834 proposed 2013 preliminary property tax levy is expected to decrease by 8.1 percent from 2012.

What is not known, however, is the effect the levy decrease will have on taxpayers. That information is available in November when the county mails its “truth-in-taxation” statements.

It is also likely that future increases will occur in the general fund portion of the district’s tax levy although the change will keep the levy below last year’s figure. The district has also taken out the maximum levy allowed by the state.

“This is good news for taxpayers for next year as the amount of money we’re collecting will be less by eight percent,” said Assistant Superintendent of Business and Administrative Services Dr. Ray Queener. “Though revisions are still being made.”

Overall, the general fund levy decreased by 10.6 percent from 2012. This portion includes things such as referendum funds, building lease levy, health and safety tax levy and the alternative facilities levy.

The building lease levy involves the leased property owned by the district. According to Queener, it is expected to change significantly by the end of the week. The estimated cost currently stands at $918,000, a 29.4 percent decrease from last year, though that number is expected to increase by about $323,000 due to proposed lease costs pending approval by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The alternative facilities levy has decreased by 26.1 percent from last year. This levy serves the purpose of routine maintenance on district properties. The total amount for 2013 projects stands at $4.2 million while bonds are expected to pay about half of that cost. Most of the projects and maintenance will take place at the Stillwater Area High School. Total costs come in at $1,573,500.

The improvements include replacing the northeast bus entrance, the 1993 synthetic gym floor, a partial roof replacement and replacing the water-damaged ceiling in E wing. Oak-Land Junior High’s tennis court will also be replaced. Other routine work will be done at the district’s other schools. The district will also pay $5.8 million from their debt services fund for projects done at Oakland and Stillwater Junior highs. The high school and Rutherford Elementary will be fully owned by the district within the next two years.

This year’s health and safety levy is at the maximum amount allowed and has increased by 60.7 percent from last year. Operations Director Dennis Bloom said that fund is used to maintain indoor air quality, deal with environmental management and keep playground equipment up to date. Some of that money is not used and rolls over yearly. The amount in that fund currently stands at $668,703.92.

The community service fund, which includes things such as community education and early childhood and family education saw a decrease in cost of 0.8 percent from last year. The cost of Early Childhood Family Education decreased by 2.5 percent, a total of $8,235, due to an increase in revenue and a change in the tax rate.

The proposed tax levy is 26.4 percent of the budget for 2012-2013 which Queener says comes in at less than the surrounding areas. The grand total for the preliminary proposed levy stands at $29,221,449.52. Members of the public can address the board on the levy at the Dec. 6 school board meeting at 7:15 p.m.

Also at the meeting:

n Executive Director of Secondary Schools Mike Redmond presented the annual report for 2011-2012. It showed that Stillwater Schools topped the competition for test scores in the conference districts, comparative districts and also in the state. Students gained 86 percent proficiency in reading from grades 3-8 and 10, 86 percent proficiency in math for grades 3-8 and 11, and 58 percent proficiency in science for grades 3-8 and 10, on MCA tests. Also, 77 percent of students received scores of 3, 4, or 5 on AP tests. In most cases these scores qualify students for college credit.

n The school board also recognized Barbara Kaufmann of 3M who helped set up the STEM partnership with her company.