Marion School Board Approves Potential $1.04 Tax Rate Increase

By Meryn Fluker, Reporter

MARION, Iowa - Marion Independent School District residents might be short a Grant when it comes to filing taxes next year.

At a regular meeting Monday, board members approved publishing a levy rate of $18.50 per $1,000 taxable valuation for the 2015 fiscal year. District Business Manager Brian Bartz estimated that for the owners of a home valued at $100,000, the increase would result in an additional $50 paid on that portion of the tax bill.

Board Member Alan Tribble proposed raising the published overall tax rate, set to garner an extra $600,000 for the Marion schools, as a way to close the district's projected $900,000 general fund shortfall. By generating more revenue, the district can make fewer cuts while still closing the gap.

Tribble was one of five board members to vote in favor of the increase, a departure from the proposed $18.20 per $1,000 rate, which is a full $1.04 higher than the 2014 levy rate of $17.46 per $1,000.

"We need to go above $18.20 to make this more of a long-term solution," he said.

The district's administrative team initially recommended that the board increase the tax rate to $18.20, which would raise an additional $450,000, and make up the remainder of the necessary $900,000 through budget cuts.

Among the suggested reductions, which board members discussed Monday but did not approve, are getting rid of a .25 full-time equivalent (FTE) English instructor and a .75 (FTE) foreign language teacher at Marion High School, as well as eliminating the district's assistant superintendent position.

Thirty-four students, staff and community members spoke during the meeting's public comment session to keep their favored staff members or programs in the budget. Board members reached consensus, though it was not unanimous, to direct the administrative team to devise a reduction scenario that does not include the four most heavily discussed positions from the public comment session: 2 FTE reading and math strategists at Starry and Emerson elementary and Francis Marion Intermediate schools, a .25 FTE art instruction position at the high school, 1 FTE music teacher and 6 FTE special education associates between Vernon Middle School and Francis Marion.

If spared, those positions total an estimated $265,108 that would remain in the budget from a list totaling approximately $1.3 million in proposed cuts.

That was too much for Board Member Dan Barkley, who did not side with board in that consensus and suggested that some of those positions might have to be cut in order to reach what was a $450,000 goal.

"The numbers don't work," he said. "All of these things are important. It just drives you nuts (that you have to cut)."

Barkley, along with Shari Funck, voted against publishing the levy rate at $18.50.

The board approved scheduling a public hearing for the budget, including the proposed levy rate, at 7 p.m. Monday, March 31. During the meeting set to follow the hearing, board members will make the final vote on the tax rate and possible cuts. The board has the authority to lower the rate from $18.50 per $1,000, but not to increase it.

"I was satisfied with the half and half," Barkley said. "I think anything over $18 is going to make it hard for us to have a bond issue in the future."

The school board must certify its budget by Tuesday, April 15.
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