Highlands votes to raise taxes 2 mills

| Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Despite teacher furloughs and across-the-board expenditure cuts, the Highlands School Board is still raising taxes.

An 8.2 percent increase — 2 mills — was approved Monday by a 5-4 vote.

According to Business Manager Jon Rupert, the increase means an additional $112 on the tax bill for a house assessed at the district average of $56,000.

"An increase right now would put a hardship on most of the senior citizens in the district," said Rick Smith of Fawn, who urged the board to hold off passing a budget and cut more.

Sue Barnett of Harrison said her elderly mother cannot afford to pay more in taxes. Barnett said her son, who bought a house in the district and is just making it on a tight budget, could end up losing the house because of the additional taxes.

But Jeanie Layhew of Harrison, who has three children attending school, saw the situation differently.

"If I do have to pay more for my kids to have a quality education, I will find a way to do it," Layhew said.

She said if the district lets its quality of education decline by continually cutting teachers and programs, she would send her children to school somewhere else.

"We have no concrete options," board member Eric Miles said, "None but to raise taxes to make up the budget difference."

But board member Carrie Fox said, "I don't think it's a solution. I still think we could cut in a lot of places."

Fox declined to give specifics, saying that most of the cuts would involve confidential personnel moves.

All-day kindergarten stays

At crunch time, board concerns about losing full-day kindergarten, an expected reduction in the district's ability to raise taxes in 2012-13, and doubts about getting some of its state subsidy restored, carried the day.

Board members Judy Wisner, Laura Thimons, William Heasley, Miles and Karen Wantland voted to approve the tax hike.

Voting against it were board president Debbie Beale, Ron Lang, William Krzton and Fox.

In addition to approving the tax increase and a $35.2 million budget — $3.6 million less than last year — the board:

• Approved the proposed school reorganization with one kindergarten class at Heights Elementary School; grades K-2 in Fairmount and Fawn elementary schools; and all students in grades 3-5 housed in Grandview Elementary, which will be renamed Highlands Intermediate Center.

The vote was 7-2 with Wantland and Heasley voting no.

• Unanimously voted to continue full-day kindergarten, a move made possible by the tax increase, which will provide $380,000 for it.

• As part of the kindergarten move, Superintendent Joseph Latess said an additional three to six teachers will keep their jobs.

He said the number of teachers to be furloughed now will be between 26 and 29 instead of the 32 originally projected.

• Approved an agreement with 20 administrative employees in which those employees will take a 50 percent reduction in pay increases scheduled for 2011-12.

Rupert said the increases would have ranged between $1,000 and $3,000. The savings will be $30,000. Superintendent Joseph Latess previously announced he would not take a scheduled pay raise, freezing his salary at $135,000 for the school year.

Additional Information:

About the tax hike

A average assessed value on a house in Highlands School District is $56,000, according to district officials. Here's what the 2011-2012 tax bill would look like for such a property:

Old tax rate: 24.41 mills.

New tax rate: 26.41 mills.

Old tax bill: $1,367.

New tax bill: $1,479.

Tax increase: $112.

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