West Branch ready to seek levy in November

BELOIT- The West Branch school board Thursday night agreed to pursue an operational levy in the November ballot.

The board approved a resolution of necessity to raise $1,954,316 annually, although it has not indicated whether it will be a property tax or income tax, which would be .75 percent (or $262.50 per year for a resident with an adjusted gross income of $35,000). The board is requesting the state tax commissioner to estimate the respective rates of both to determine which to pursue. The board must decide by Aug . 7, the deadline for submitting issues to the board of elections for the November ballot.

The district is projected to enter a deficit during the 2015-2016 school year despite a series of reductions in staffing, a pay freeze for all employees and reductions in operating budgets due to what schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart described as the loss of significant funding from the state and the expectation of a freeze in state funding for the next two years that has left the district in a situation where it needs to request additional funding from local taxpayers.

“Voters in West Branch approved a one percent school district income back in the 1990s,” according to board President John Wallace in a written statement. “The school board believes that a school district income tax spreads the fiscal responsibility to all residents of the district, not just to property owners. As a school board we have really struggled with asking voters to approve additional funding. We have worked with the administration and staff to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and we are not asking for this additional revenue to add programs. The additional funding will enable us to maintain the quality educational and co-curricular programs that we have.”

According to Weingart, the district has operated a the lowest tax level allowed by the state for nearly a decade. He said the district has seen a dramatic decease in its operating revenues following reductions in state funding which constitutes the majority of the district’s funding.

“We have lived for a decade at the 20-mill floor with no additional voted property or income tax,” he said. “We consistently have had a carryover balance, educated our students for over $2,000 per student less than the state average and worked hard to live within our budget. With an operating budget of nearly $20 million, the past losses and projected freeze of state funding are just too much to absorb without cutting into the courses and programs that make West Branch such an outstanding school district.”