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Ringgold budget includes tax hike

| Friday, May 27, 2005

NEW EAGLE - Board members in Ringgold School District are banking on a 2-mill increase in property taxes for 2005-06 to erase its deficit within two years.

The board voted 6-1 Thursday to accept a $33.3 preliminary budget that directs revenue from a tax increase specifically to budgetary reserve. One mill generates about $125,000. The district's current deficit is roughly $300,000, which has been whittled down from $3.4 million four years ago.

If adopted, the budget would increase taxes to 107 mills. Last year, the board raised taxes 8 mills.

"Basically, the 2-mill increase is planned to get us out of a deficit fund balance by the end of next year," said business manager Randy Skrinjovich.

According to Skrinjovich, seven teaching positions and one maintenance job are eliminated in the proposed budget package.

He said three teachers who instruct federal Title 1 programs could be reinstated if state block grants are obtained to fund those positions.

Director Charles Smith said the spending plan assumes the district's teachers' union will accept the board's latest contract offer.

"Our last best offer to the teachers is what's in this budget," said Smith. "We have to hold the line in order to balance this budget and pay off that deficit. By voting for this budget, we are committing to our last best agreement for next year."

The school district and its teachers' union are still at odds over wages and benefits.

"Two mills is pretty lenient," said Smith. "Two mills will buy us a year to look at other cuts and consolidations."

Superintendent Edward Repka said the administration is taking careful watch over its spending.

"We're making every effort possible not spend anything that is not budgeted for," said Repka.

Board President Denise Kuhn said she is still hoping the board can pare down the proposed fiscal plan to a zero-tax increase.

"It may be tough," she said, "but I think our people need a break here."

Director William Stein Jr. said cutting another 2 mills from the proposed budget could jeopardize educational programs.

"We have to be responsible, too," said Stein.

"This (deficit) is an albatross that has been hanging around our necks forever. It may be a big mistake to eliminate $220,000 worth of expenses to get to a no-tax increase in the budget. Then we're really endangering our educational programs."

Skrinjovich said a district supported by a $33 million budget should have a minimum $1.5 million in reserves. He noted that the reserve account can be tapped for unanticipated expenditures.

Director Lawrence Mauro, who opposed the tentative budget, said he is concerned that some board members will make financial decisions that will chip away at the reserve account for other reasons.

"The intentions are good, but it only takes six board members to do something else with the money, then there is no budgetary reserve," said Mauro.

Also on Thursday, the board voted 5-2 to inform for-profit groups that are denied use of district facilitiesthat they can appeal the decision to the board.

The action stemmed from a lengthy discussion over a request by Miss Barbara's School of Dance to use the high school auditorium for a rehearsal on June 8 and a dance recital on June 10. Director Jannette Baisley argued that not all who are denied similar privileges are aware of their right to an appeal.

The decision to grant use of facilities is typically an administrative decision. Bailsey said owner Barb Rudar was referred to the board and therefore given unfair advantage because of her relationship with a certain board member.

"Why should the decision be made because she knew a board member?" asked Baisley.

Kuhn disputed that allegation.

"The reason this has come before the board is because of what she (Rudar) has donated back to Ringgold, period," said Kuhn.

Repka said most such requests are denied because the organizations typically refuse to pay the associated fees.

The board voted 5-2 to accept Rudar's request. Mauro recommended that criteria be established for all future requests for use of facilities that are brought to the board's attention.

In another matter, the board accepted the resignations of Stephen Koskoski as head girls basketball coach and Robert Bove as head wrestling coach. Koskoski and Bove have accepted similar positions at the Charleroi Area and McGuffey school districts, respectively.

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