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Fennimore school levy goes down
School board approves decrease for school portion of tax bill
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Taxpayers in the Fennimore Community School District will be happy to hear that the school portion of their taxes for 2011 will be decreasing slightly. Owners of homes with an assessed value of $200,000 will see a tax bill of $1,590 for the school portion, or a decrease of $14 from last year ($1,604), before tax levy credits.

At the annual meeting of the district board last Wednesday, Oct. 26, in front of a five-person audience, the group approved a Fund 10 revenue limit of $6,734,258, which is down 5.12 percent. That number includes state aid totaling $4,912,944, which is a decrease of 6.67 percent or $528 per student, and a levy of $1,791,314, which is down 1.11 percent. In addition, the board approved $30,000 (interest free) to be paid toward the new boiler, so the total levy for 2011 will be $1,821,314, a decrease of $20,000 for the taxpayers over last year ($1,83,312).

The mill rate for 2011 will be $7.95, which is determined by the total equalized value in the district ($228,923,719) plus a computer exemption ($155,600) divided by the local levy ($1,791,314). This equals a .87 percent decrease per $100,000 of evaluation in the school portion of taxes compared to 2010.

Last year, according to District Administrator Jamie Nutter, the First Dollar Credit and Tax Levy Credits netted the actual mill rate paid at $6.32 even though the mill rate was certified at $8.02 for the school portion. A misconception for school budgets, he said, is that the mill rate approved per $100,000 is what is actually paid for the school portion. The difference between the approved $8.02 and the actual mill rate paid of $6.32 last year is a prime example.

“This year was challenging to balance the budget. We were able to balance the budget by cutting one position (no employees were laid off) combined with pay freezes, WRS contributions, and increased insurance contributions by district staff,” Nutter said. “Our tax rate has been the lowest in our CESA. We have been fortunate as we are one of two districts (Richland Center) in our CESA that has not had to ask our taxpayers to exceed the revenue limit for operating expenses via referendum.”

An interesting comparison was made last Wednesday to the district’s annual meeting in 1992, one that several of the board members were in attendance for nearly 20 years ago. Back then, an estimated 50-100 people represented the public at the meeting because of the high pressure on property taxes, as was the case for many schools that year.

In 1992, the local levy picked up a high payment because the school district believed in the importance of its expenditures. Nutter said that if the expenditures had been cut that year, as a lot of districts chose to do, Fennimore may not be in the position it is today as one of two districts in CESA 3 that has not gone to referendum.

“A lot goes back to that decision,” Nutter said. “Fennimore stayed on top of what [state aid] it was going to get the following year.”

In 1993, the state aid increased and the levy went back down.

“We don’t have a lot of money to spend on extra things but I think we’re getting a pretty good bargain for what we’re spending,” Nutter added.

To make that point, Nutter presented a summary of students’ achievement district-wide. Average ACT results the past two years in Fennimore have been the highest in school history at 23.6 and 22.8, while participation has increased as well. Advanced Placement participation has increased with 42 students partaking and 29 earning college credit—totaling a savings of $30,000 in tuition. Highlights for the past year at the elementary school were in proficiency, as understanding of reading increased to 92 percent, science to 91 percent and social studies to 94 percent.

Furthermore, in both buildings, student participation rates continue to be above state average in academic clubs (39.8 percent), athletics (53.5), music (29.6) and graduation (98).

Following Nutter’s budget presentation and its approval by the board, former librarian and local resident Ingeborg Froiland made a complimentary statement about the district to those assembled.

“In my travels around the state with book sales, I’ve been in five different CESAs and I’ve seen a lot of different schools, and I think we have one of the neatest, cleanest, friendliest school districts in this part of the state,” she said. “I think that says something about our superintendent, our staff, our board and our community. These achievements really say something about our school.”

Other business
Also at last week’s meeting, the board approved donations and minimal expenditures toward dugouts at the high school baseball field as well as elementary school tutors for 2011-2012. The group also heard from Pupil Service and Special Education Director Gavin Greenlee about some new activities in special education.

Scott Swan, an engineering technologist instructor at Southwest Tech and district parent, has collaborated with the SWTC building and trades and masonry departments and proposed a donation of labor to build dugouts at the FHS field for the players. In addition, the Fennimore Baseball Boosters want to donate the cost for the building materials, Bard Materials of Fennimore would like to donate 3.5 yards of cement toward the project, and district employees Bill Richter and Jay Millin will be able to lay the cement pad to serve as the flooring. The remaining cost to the district will be about $400 to cover the other half of the cement costs. The home dugout will measure 28x8 with an 8-foot roof at the front sloping slightly toward the back. It will also have a 4x8 storage area. The visitor dugout will measure 24x8.

Tutors approved for employment at FES were Misty Crowley and Denny Freymiller at 15 hours per week apiece, Amy Boebel at 10 hours per week and Pat Harris at five hours per week. All are previous tutors; Harris is the only volunteer tutor and serves the second and third grades.

Greenlee provided the board with his monthly report last week and added that the district’s special education teachers have been “team teaching with regular education teachers,” especially in math, but also in reading and language arts.
“They have been doing a great job with that,” he said.

The next meeting of the school board will be Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the elementary school cafeteria.