School district prepares new budget
By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
June 17, 2002
Dr. Janet McLin, superintendent of the Meridian Public School District, and Suzanne Smith, the district's chief fiscal officer, discussed school finances last week with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The school district will host a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. today on its proposed budget for the 2002-2003 school year. The hearing will follow the school board's monthly meeting at the school district office, 1019 25th Ave.
The Meridian Star: What is the status of the Meridian Public School District budget?
Janet McLin: There is a public hearing (today) at 6:30 p.m. in the central office. The budget will not be approved until July 15. That's in order for the public to have some time after the hearing to ask questions of us or anyone else.
Suzanne Smith: We went into this year thinking we would probably be a million dollars short, from what the state was telling us, in coming up with money for teacher pay raises. Then, in the last three weeks of the legislative session, they came up with a lot of one-time money the accelerated sales tax money and things like that. Instead of being $1 million short we were $125,000 short, which is much easier to deal with.
On the heels of that, the state started cautioning us that next year there won't be any one-time money. Right now we've taken a breather from worrying about that, even though it is still going to be in the back of our minds. I don't see how a state budget can recover to the tune of $57 million and provide the money, which is probably another $70 million, that's going to be needed for the teacher pay raise next year.
All the additional money from the state was earmarked for teacher salary increases. We are still planning at this point to ask taxpayers for additional money. There are certain percentages we can go up without approval from anyone, and we're well below that figure of 4 percent for operational millage. So we're going to need an additional $391,000 from the local taxpayers to make up that $125,000 that we are short from the state for the teacher pay raises.
The Meridian Star: How many people generally attend a public hearing on the budget?
McLin: It varies, according to what the issues are. If teachers were soliciting a pay raise from the district, then we would get a lot of teachers. But they are getting substantial raises from the state now, so there probably won't be a lot of teachers at the public hearing.
The Meridian Star: Some people who say they have computed their taxes based on the proposed millage rates say they are going to be paying several hundred dollars more. Is that because of reappraisal?
Smith: This is a year of reappraisal. I have no idea what reappraisal is doing. We probably won't know until October. The millage is a product of three entities, Meridian Public Schools, Meridian Community College and the city of Meridian. Each of those have debt service and operational millage. While we may go down, the city may go up. Also, you never know if taxpayers have done improvements to their homes you may be in reassessment. Also, I think the information people receive on their taxes from the courthouse says total school tax,' which includes MCC. That's a very confusing thing I wish could be different.
The Meridian Star: Are there any consolidation plans for Meridian's elementary schools?
McLin: We do not have any consolidation plans and we don't have any empty classrooms because we have reduced class size. When you take two classes and make three out of it, you have to have an additional room and an additional teacher, so because we've done that kind of class-size reduction our schools are still full. We do not have empty space.
The Meridian Star: Do you think there should be a districtwide policy for exam exemptions?
McLin: Yes, there should be a districtwide, mandated practice. When you say policy you're talking about a school board-adopted policy. I'm not sure it needs to be a school board policy, but we do need a districtwide, standardized, practice.
We are working on one right now, and it will be in place before school starts so that students coming in will know what the exemption policy is and parents will know. It will be a uniform practice among our two junior highs and the high school.