Gillett sets $10.5 million school budget for 2018-19

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Mill rate amounts to $8 per $1,000 of equalized valuation

Warren Bluhm,

Members of the Gillett School Board review documents while Superintendent Todd Carlson addresses the school district’s annual meeting Oct. 3. From left, Cliff Gerbers, Tracy Winkler, James Karls, Ron Lenz, Preston Peterson, Jamie Young and Jamie Heroux. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

The Gillett School District adopted a $10.5 million budget for the 2018-19 academic year, supported by a $2.376 million property tax levy, at its annual meeting Oct. 3.

The tax rate works out to $8 per $1,000 of equalized value for school purposes, or a tax bill of about $800 for a property valued at $100,000. The rate is down 34 percent from a high of $11.64 in the 2013-14 school year, Superintendent Todd Carlson told about two dozen people who attended the meeting in the Secondary School Commons.

“I think there’s a misconception out there that the Gillett School District is spending more money and more money each year,” Carlson said. “That is so untrue; that is not exactly what’s happening at all.”

Carlson said the school board has set three goals for the coming year — continuing to improve academic performance at all grade levels, providing necessary resources to maintain opportunities and programs for students and staff, and increasing school and community engagement.

Next month’s referendum question took up much of the presentations at this year’s annual meeting. The board is asking for voters’ permission to exceed state-imposed revenue limits by $600,000 in each of the next three school years to maintain educational programs.

Gillett has one of the lowest revenue limits among school districts in the state, in part because the limits were set in 1993 — a year when Gillett’s budget was quite low, Carlson said.

“The school board in Gillett was very conservative that year — extremely conservative on their budget — as we are in a conservative area,” he said. “So our budget is locked in at a very low revenue limit … and right now, it’s really starting to catch up with us.”

The state recognizes there are school districts like Gillett where the revenue limit is too low, and they are going to change that, but it can’t happen all at once, Carlson said. Increases are being phased in over the next several years.

“The problem is, we can’t go from here to here all in one year,” he said, indicating chart points showing an approximately $600,000 gap between annual revenues and expenses, “and so we need a three-year referendum to tide us over, because the state says, ‘We’re going to bring you up to the revenue limit that you should have.’”

The district has been taking from its fund balance to make up the difference between revenues and expenses, but that’s a short-term fix. The fund balance cannot go down much more without threatening educational services, he said, referring to a community survey of district residents taken in the spring.

“The strongest message we received from that survey was, ‘Do not cut opportunities for students,’” Carlson said.