The South Eastern School District's property tax hike will be less than half of what had been proposed.
The school board at its meeting Thursday approved a tax hike of 1.25 percent for the 2013-14 school year.
The final budget is yet to come, but Superintendent Rona Kaufmann said she wanted the board to just tell her what tax rate they'd be comfortable with so she could work on the budget from there.
The district, starting at a $2.5 million deficit, had proposed a budget with a 3.5 percent tax hike. That would include using an exception from the state to go above South Eastern's 2.2 percent tax cap.
"It was clear the board doesn't want to take exceptions," Kaufmann said.
Balancing act: By going with a 1.25 percent hike, Kaufmann said, administrators will need to find $660,000 in additional savings to balance the budget.
But because there are several retirees, South Eastern will be able to leave some positions vacant and save money without program cuts. Kaufmann said class size shouldn't be noticeably affected. Also, administrators and support staff will be contributing more to their medical insurance.
A 1.25 percent tax hike will add $40 in taxes for a $150,000 homeowner; a 3.5 percent hike would have been $111 in additional taxes. Last year, the district raised taxes
by 1.7 percent, which was also below the tax cap.
South Eastern will need to use about $1.4 million of its surplus to balance the budget, a stopgap measure that Kaufmann said can't be used forever. A better school funding formula by the state is needed, she said, because districts are in a "downward spiral" trying to constantly keep up with expenses.
A final budget using the newly approved tax rate will be considered by the board in May.
--Reach Andrew Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org