Montello District Administrator Jeff Holmes addressed the audience at Monday's annual meeting of the school district, highlighting the good and bad news regarding budget preparations for the coming year.

Good news, bad news at 2012 Montello Schools Annual Meeting

It was a “good news, bad news” kind of night at the Montello School District Annual Meeting, held Monday, August 27th. During the sparsely attended meeting, District Administrator Jeff Holmes outlined highlights for the district during the past and coming year, while reminding residents of the challenges still facing them.

The good news included an increase in student count for the coming year, with 50 new registrations recorded this summer, 15 of which came from the new home-based program the district has started. The bad news there is that the state aid funding formula looks at a 3-year rolling average for enrollment, so funding won’t see a positive effect just yet.

In developing the 2012-13 budget, the district again used a “zero-based” budgeting model. However, on the bad news side again, Holmes reported that property values are projected to decrease in the district. While they are actually expected to decrease by less than the state average, that isn’t such a good thing to Montello, because the state funding formula will then view this district as a “richer” district, meaning less state aid coming to it.

Holmes reported that the state’s contribution to aid Montello is expected to be just 21% for the coming year, while just six years ago, that number stood at 50%.

However, the district had more good news to share, in that the forecast model prepared a few years ago by Robert W. Baird & Co., which gave “dire predictions” for the district’s fund balance for the 2012-13 year, now looks much better. After a referendum to raise additional funds, enrollment improvements, grants, budget savings and other efforts, the projected fund balance at the end of the 2012-13 year should be about 31%, rather the minus number that was predicted by Baird.

In addition, enrollments are expected to be better, expenditures less, and tax rate less than the Baird model.
A Standard & Poor’s Rating for the district was reported as “A+/Stable,” which Holmes described as an “exceptional thing” for a district that four years ago was predicted to go out of business this coming year.

In addition, an announcement this week that Montello District is receiving $475,000 in grant money to continue planning and implementing charter schools for both the elementary and the junior/senior high schools, will also have a positive effect on the budget.

While property valuations will not be finalized until mid-October, residents are always given a projection of the mil rate at the annual meeting. Numbers presented Monday night showed a tax levy of $5,373,683 and a mil rate of $8.43. Last year’s levy was just over $5 million, leaving a mil rate of $7.97.

Several questions were fielded from the audience during Monday’s meeting. Ron Knutson asked for some clarifications on the budget presentation and questioned board members on their understanding of all the figures. Board President Debbie Daniels, who chaired the meeting, commented that understanding the budget format  “is a learning process,” and said the board has workshops to go over and understand the figures.

Bill Lueder voiced his concerns about all the fees charged to students for things like sports and some elective classes. He believes the fees make it difficult for students to participate in those and suggested that the Callahan Scholarship Trust Fund should be used to eliminate those fees. The fund has reached about $500,000 since its inception and this past year was used to give four students scholarships of $5,000 each. The use of the fund is governed by a committee, rather than the school board, Holmes explained. Daniels said she thought the board would give the idea some consideration.

Brian Coddington questioned the school calendar for 2012-13 and why it keeps going later and later. The situation this year was described as a later start (September 4th) due to the way Labor Day fell, along with the addition of four staff training days related to the charter school process, and funded by the charter school grants.

Holmes said he also has a vision toward a flexible scheduling calendar in the future that might allow those who desire it an opportunity to have a more year-round schedule. Coddington cautioned that Holmes should survey parents and students carefully to see whether they want it, and that the district should consider the schedules of other schools in the area due to all the summer activities.

Residents voted on several standard resolutions, including authorizing the tax levy for 2012-13, giving the school board the power to short-term borrow pending receipt of tax monies, and setting the number of school days at 180, as dictated by state law.
Other news shared included partnerships with Madison College and Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin to allow five students to get 18-36 technical college credits before graduation, and at no cost to them or the district. The district is also working with the county to bring wireless high-speed internet through a relationship with Hilbert Communications. A new tower is being erected near the bus garage. Work is also being done on the ceilings and heating system to replace old units and give better energy use.

A motion was made and passed to set next year’s meeting at 7:00 p.m., rather than the traditional 8:00 p.m. The date will be Monday, August 26, 2013.