Montello School District holds Annual Meeting

The Montello School District held its Annual Meeting last Tuesday, October 26th, where participants approved the 2021/2022 budget and heard the latest about the district’s status.

During his opening remarks, District Superintendent Jim Feil gave an overview of the district and the budget for 2021/22. The 2021/22 tax levy is $4,961,532, which is down $83,000 from last year. The proposed mill rate, which was approved at a regular board meeting held immediately after the Annual Meeting, was $6.58 per $1,000 of equalized valuation. It has fallen the past five years, starting at $9.54 in 2017/18 and was $7.37 in 2020/21. Feil said that the taxes on a $150,000 house would be reduced by $118. 

Feil discussed the different funding sources they have, including the district’s fund balance. It is currently at 42% and will be 34% at the end of the year if they are in line with the budget. Feil said that typically it’s recommended to have 15% of fund balance to cover 3 months of operation. He said that this meant they wouldn’t need to borrow or fall short in funding. Feil also highlighted the fact that the Montello School District has a Bond Rating of A+, saying they have low debt and a healthy fund balance.

While they would be utilizing $607,042 in fund balance this year, they would have $689,747 in ESSER II relief funding and would be receiving an additional $1.6 million of relief funding. They also set aside $150,000 for future facility improvements. They have other budget efficiencies that they use, including having employees pay 16% the cost of their healthcare premiums which is the highest in the surrounding areas. They are also transitioning to Quartz Insurance in 2022, which will save them $180,000 in the first year. 

For the 2021/22 school year the district has 609 students. Feil noted that the district has gone down 130 students over the past five years, with much of that in the past two years. He expressed interest in looking into this further and wondered how much effect COVID had on the enrollment numbers. He also wanted to determine what this meant going forward for the district. Feil discussed the impact that the economy and local jobs had on this saying, “This is very important to understand what the impact of jobs are on the community, as well as the school district that represents them. Bottom line is strong communities build strong schools and strong schools build strong communities. This is something besides academics we need to be involved with our community in terms of working together because we can promote that kind of stimulus.”

Feil then discussed the challenges they have faced regarding COVID. While they had started the year as “mask optional,” they have had to return to masking requirements and are faced with determining how to monitor things and return to normal. Other challenges they faced included unfilled staff and teacher positions, a lack of substitute teachers, bus driver shortages, food shortages, and facility/technology parts and supplies delays. Feil felt that they had done a phenomenal job keeping the school open last year and that they were working their hardest to ensure students were in school five days a week and learning.

Feil summed up his remarks by saying, “There is a lot of work behind the scenes and we all need to be proud of our staff because they are doing just an excellent job keeping our school running. But again, we’re forward thinking. We’re not looking about just getting by, we want to get back to that momentum that we created a couple years back. We didn’t have a (state) report card last year but we do have internal measures that we are tracking and we know that we still have a lot of work because we want to take us to the top and we know we can do that in spite of this pandemic.”

The audience then heard the Treasurer’s Report and the Proposed Budget from Board Treasurer Don Lloyd. He reported that they had $4.25 million in their general fund and that they would have $3.65 million at the end of the next budget cycle. Board member Andy Zellmer asked about increased expenditures in both Regular Curriculum, which went up almost $400,000, and Pupil Services, which went up $160,000. It was explained that the ESSER relief funds that they received were put in those accounts. Zellmer asked the board if they would look at a look at a realistic baseline for increases next year and not base it off of these increases brought by the ESSER relief funds. He felt that staying at those elevated levels would not be sustainable. 

Feil said that he had discussed the importance of bringing the budget and details through Finance Committee and that that their salary schedules were also up at the end of the year. He said that all those things needed careful review and needed enough lead time to understand what would happen with a continuation budget in normal circumstances vs. not assuming that these things continue on when that money stops. Feil said they would follow up accordingly with what he said was a reasonable request. Feil also said that they would be receiving another series of Federal Funding in the next few months.

The group then passed a number of resolutions. They included: Setting the tax levy at $4,961,532, giving the district the power to borrow the sum of money necessary for the operation of the schools, setting the number of school days, authorizing the purchase of textbooks and supplies, setting the date of the next Annual Meeting on October 25th, 2022, retaining $0 in Fund 41 for Capital Expansion, and giving the FFA limited lease of the school forest lands. 

Finally, they set the school board salaries at $1,500 for officers and $1,200 for members and then adjourned the Annual Meeting. They then immediately held a special board meeting where the board officially set the Tax Levy at 0.006583 mils.