School board supports putting new 1% tax before voters

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By Dave Bell

Following the lead of the three other school districts in the county, the Vandalia Board of Education on Tuesday voted 6-1 in favor of allowing voters to decide whether to approve a countywide 1 percent retail sales tax that would benefit the school districts.
The lone dissenting vote came from Jay Smith.
Before the vote, Superintendent Rich Well said that the tax had already been supported by the school boards in Ramsey, St. Elmo and Brownstown. With the Vandalia School Board’s approval, the proposed tax now must be submitted to the Fayette County Board for its approval before it can be placed on the April 5, 2011, ballot.
Well said that the sales tax concept is appealing because it’s a way to abate property taxes by creating another source of income to fund the schools. The tax would not apply to titled or licensed vehicles, food, drugs, medical supplies, resale items or specifically exempted items (such as farm supplies and services).
If the tax were in place, Well said, the estimated property tax reduction would be about: $162 on a $65,000 home; $250 on a $100,000 home; $375 on a $150,000 home; and $500 on a $200,000 home. More definite numbers will be available later, Well said.
The school board also heard its annual audit report from its new auditor, Robin Yockey, a partner in the Shelbyville accounting firm of Mose, Yockey, Brown and Kull.
She said that the district’s operating funds “all have healthy balances,” but noted that the district’s cash and fund balances “have been impacted by the state of Illinois not releasing funds by June 30.”
The district’s four operating accounts – education, operations and maintenance, transportation and working cash – are used to determine its overall financial score. The district’s score was a 3.6 out of a possible 4.0, which places it in the “recognition” category.
To give some perspective, Well said after the meeting that five years ago, the district had a score of 1.8 – which put it on the “financial watch” list.
“It’s a pretty good achievement in five years,” Well said. “It’s a group effort – everybody has to be cognizant of the finances. The improvements have given us a chance to make it through state funding shortfalls and cuts. We were able to continue several programs by using local funds after state funds were cut.”
The district’s audit showed a total fund balance of $3,873,212, as of June 30. That represented an increase of just over $500,000 from the previous year’s balance of $3,371,738.
Currently, the district has a total positive balance of $5,563,954 – with a surplus of  $3,934,365 in the operating accounts. Four months into the fiscal year, the district has received 34 percent of its operating account revenues and has made 32 percent of its budgeted expenditures.
During the superintendent’s report, Well said that four representatives from the district will be attending an upcoming professional development conference in Chicago sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Association of School Business Officials. Among the topics to be addressed are: school finance, school improvement, technology and school board development. The board did not attend the conference in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but did participate last year. Attending from the local district will be: Well, Business Manager Lori Meseke and school board members Jay Carroll and Chris Palmer.
He also noted that several literacy training seminars and other workshops have been held in the district recently. Funding for those seminars has come from Title I revenues.
Though the numbers are still preliminary, Well said the tentative tax levy for the school district shows an increase of 3.69 percent. This year’s tax levy is 5.2711; the projected rate for 2011 is 5.3066. That rate is based on a projected equalized assessed valuation of $98,594,783 in 2010, compared to an EAV of $95,723,090 in 2009.
In other action, the board:
• Approved the destruction of executive session audio recordings older than 18 months.
• Approved a resolution to sell house No. 37 built by the building trades class at the Okaw Area Vocational Center.
• Approved substitute teachers, aides, bus drivers and custodial lists.
• Approved the second reading of IASB policy updates.
• Approved volunteer coaches – Blake Doehring and Brock Brannon in basketball and Dave Bell, James Moore and Nick Niemerg in track.
• Approved Anne Winchester as sponsor of the VCHS National Honor Society.
• Approved a six-week maternity leave for Danielle Matlock, beginning about Feb. 14.
• Approved Marc Sasse as co-coach for VCHS cheerleaders for the basketball season.