After two days of meetings with both members of the community and the school board, the Madison-Plains school district has reached a possible solution to their impending deficit. Board of Education members voted to put a 1.25 percent Earned Income Tax on the May 8 general election ballot during their special meeting Thursday night.
As it stands, the school district is projected to run out of operating funds by the end of the 2018-19 school year. The meeting on Wednesday night was held by the Madison-Plains Advisory Council (MPAC) in an effort to seek feedback from the community on possible remedies.
Since state law prohibits school district officials from starting a school year without enough funding, the board wanted to take action as quickly as possible. Surveys were sent out to residents in the district asking for their input on the solutions.
“We got around 200 responses from the surveys and found that the majority of people favored an income tax,” said Madison-Plains superintendent Tim Dettwiller. From that, board members then held the MPAC meeting to get voices from the community. Among residents in attendance were farmers who expressed concern about the increase in taxes.
“A lot of farmers are older, they could care less about that computer,” Bill Young said of the district’s collection data. “My total tax bill for one farm was $14,634. Of that, Madison-Plains got $8,034. And that’s, to me, why support from the agricultural side of it is limited.”
“You might have a bill that goes up this year and next year, it could go down,” Dettwiller said.
“I’m waiting for it to go down,” Gary Walker said. “I’ve never had a raise in 17 years. All I see is my taxes going up. Even though you say it’s a cheap area, it’s not for retirees. Unless I work for the state or somebody that keeps those 3 percents going.”
Dettwiller added that the tax will not affect those who have pensions or are on fixed incomes.
Christina Finney, a teacher at Madison-Plains, expressed concerns about the loss of jobs.
“In some cases faculty have left and not been replaced,” said Finney.
Thursday night decision
Dettwiler said that the district has known that they would be in the red since 2012. Thursday night’s decision was made by a unanimous vote.
“We really made a concerted effort to stay off the ballot the last few years,” Dettwiller said. “The trouble with it is, it can get lost in the mix when we don’t talk about it and we’re at the point where we need a solution.”
Since learning about the deficit, the district has already taken measures to cut operating costs. One solution was to implement a program which would allow teachers to retire early. The plan was put into action in 2013 and since then, the district has saved nearly a million dollars.
“Another thing we did was look at operating things and say ‘do we need this?’” said Dettwiller. “We tried to consolidate as much as possible. For example, in the high school, we had a teacher specific to chemistry. So we put that position back to half-time and that teacher found a full-time position elsewhere and another teacher took up those duties.”
Dettwiller said cutting positions is not something the district wants to be in the habit of doing, but the impending deficit has forced board members to make difficult decisions. He added that putting the income tax on the ballot is a way to potentially avoid having to cut school programs.
“The budget plan is really two-fold,” Dettwiller said. “The first part is possible revenue this May from that tax. The second is, with the help of the Auditor of State, looking at peer-schools and understanding their operations.”
Once the votes for the May election are cast, the district will move forward on their final plan.
“We’ll know what we’re going to have to do in June and we’ll be ready come August,” Dettwiller said. “If the ballot fails, the reductions will just have to be greater.”