Restricting tax revenue to increase borrowing capacity discussed
If the Woodford County Board of Education votes to restrict $600,000 in property tax revenue to its building fund next Monday, the school district’s bonding potential will climb from $23 million to $37 million, according to its fiscal agent. Board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV pointed out that $37 million in bonding (borrowing) capacity “is a lot more than we were talking about six months ago.”
Dollars restricted in the building fund can only be used for a project on the district’s facility plan at the end of the year. A new high school has been the top priority on the facility plan for several years. The most recent cost estimate to build a new high school was $47 million.
In June, a majority of voters opposed a 5.5 cent facilities tax to pay for a new high school and other facility improvements.
Board member Margie Cleveland recommended restricting the additional tax revenue to the building fund in August after the board voted to increase property tax rates from 66.4 cents to 68.2 cents, which will increase local revenue by 4 percent or about $637,000.
Board members had stated their intention to maintain the same rate (66.4 cents) as last year, but board attorney Grant Chenoweth told them that the Kentucky Department of Education said that wasn’t within the board’s discretion after a proposed facilities tax levy (to pay for a new high school) failed.
Schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins recommended the board restrict only $600,000 to the building fund because of the property tax dollars that will not be collected.
A $56.354 million working budget for the 2018-19 school year includes $41.98 million in general fund dollars, Chief Operating Officer Amy Smith told board members. She said school-based instruction and services account for 52.73 percent of the general fund. She said personnel expenditures make up 71.64 percent of the budget.
The budget includes a contingency of 10.51 percent. The district has a goal of 8.3 percent, which covers about one month’s operating expenses, Smith said.
The state requires school districts to maintain a 2 percent contingency, but board Vice Chair Debby Edelen said “that’s not a recommendation.”
“If you get to 2 percent, you go on a watch list. So by going over the 2 percent, we are not dismissing the Kentucky Department of Education’s recommendation… So I think we’re doing great with the contingency.”
The cost of a kitchen and cafeteria expansion project at Southside Elementary School will be $189,000 more than estimated, board members were told. DK Contractors’ bid of $1.017 million was lower than four other bids received by the district.
“Keep in mind that the estimates we utilized were about six to eight months ago, and costs have gone up in almost every area (of construction projects),” said Hawkins.
“While we wish (the bid) would’ve come in closer to what we had estimated,” he added, “we do believe it’s best to move forward…”
The board will be asked to approve the bid and construction documents for the project during its regular meeting next Monday at Woodford County Middle School. The district has capital outlay and general fund dollars to pay for the project, Hawkins said. A bid alternative of $18,000 to pay for an ADA compliant sidewalk to Southside’s playground was added to the project and can be paid with district maintenance dollars, Smith said.
The district began August with a total cash balance of $9.286 million and ended the month with $7.469 million, according to Smith’s financial report.
The total cash balance on Aug. 31 included $6.826 million in the general fund.
The school district will begin the process of accreditation in April. Individual schools are already accredited, Chief Academic Officer Jimmy Brehm told board members.
Brehm said work has begun to form a district improvement plan committee, which will meet on three occasions. In addition to input from committee members (teachers, administrators and community representatives), Brehm said others will be able to submit suggestions and feedback on the district’s website about what areas of focus they want to see in schools.
Later during his instructional update, Brehm said the school district has formed great partnerships with local businesses and have an understanding of what those businesses need in terms of a workforce.
Brehm said the current reality does not include repurposing the high school as a workplace development center. Without that space, he said a shift in focus may result in pushing for apprentice and internship programs.
“I think we’ve got a good framework to make that happen,” he said. “Long term, I think (workforce development is) something we’re going to need to discuss, definitely. We need to figure out that space problem.”
Also, Brehm told board members that the district’s adult education program is currently serving about 50 students a week, which he said “is more students than we served combined all of last year.” Space is an issue with that program too, he acknowledged.
Adult education classes are held at the Safe Harbor Academy building on evenings, while limited space reduces how many classes are offered during the day.
“We definitely can get through the year,” said Brehm. “But we just need to start looking for solutions after that.”
He said English as a Second Language classes are offered at the public library, with two of the ESL classes having more than 15 students.