Frontier board discusses levy

NEW MATAMORAS – A week before Election Day, Frontier Local Schools officials laid out the reasons they’re asking the community to support a 9.19-mill property tax levy.

The five-year levy would raise $550,000 a year for the district, which is projected to be in deficit spending this year and the four after that without it, according to the five-year forecast presented by Treasurer Frank Antill at Tuesday’s board of education meeting.

With passage of the levy, and collecting half the projected revenue for the remainder of the fiscal year, “our loss this year, instead of $300,000, goes to about $50,000,” Antill told a crowd of about 20 people in the Frontier High School library.

Without the levy, the district would go in the red under current conditions by fiscal year 2016. If the levy passes, projections show a positive cash balance throughout the forecast, growing to more than $1 million in fiscal 2015 before shrinking to $704,622 in fiscal 2018.

But if the levy doesn’t pass, the district cannot simply maintain the current course.

“I’ve got to live within our means, no matter what happens,” Superintendent Bruce Kidder said, noting state law prohibits school districts from having negative balances.

The levy would cost the owner of a home valued at $50,000 an additional $160.83 a year in property taxes. A residential property valued at $100,000 would be charged $321.65 a year. The property tax is assessed on 35 percent of the market value of a property, not the full amount.

Kidder admitted the 9.19-mill figure seems large, but said it’s a matter of perspective. A mill in the Frontier district generates about $60,000, while in some parts of the state, a single mill would bring in the total amount of the levy being sought here.

“We do not have a lot of industry. Most of our wealth is agricultural or homeowners’ wealth,” Kidder said.

Kidder also noted that even though this year’s triennial revaluation increased many property values, the levy cannot collect more than $550,000 a year. The effective millage rate would be lowered to keep the total amount at that level.

The superintendent said he did not want to make threats and outline what cuts would be made if the levy failed. They would be based on recommendations he and Antill would make to the board, but would almost certainly include the closing of a school, likely Lawrence Elementary, which currently has just 43 students.

But Lawrence has been on the chopping block before, and received a passionate defense from members of the community. At Tuesday’s meeting, one district resident questioned why the board still has not made a decision on the school.

“I don’t feel that you’re putting education first by keeping schools open when it’s obvious we can’t fill them,” said Brooke Butler, 40, of Grandview Township.

Butler said she supports the district and is not opposed to the levy but wants to make sure money raised goes to children’s education. While she is sympathetic to the feelings of those who support Lawrence, she said the entire district will suffer if action isn’t taken.

“Why don’t you give them the school?” she said.

One option the board has considered is converting Lawrence into a district-sponsored charter school, although Butler later said she was referring to letting the community use the school in some other capacity.

Board President Justin Hoff said the levy is the public’s chance to decide on how they want the district to look. If they don’t want to keep all the buildings open, they can vote no, he said.

“We don’t want to ask you for more money, but our back’s kind of against the wall,” Hoff said.

Declining enrollment and changes in state and federal aid have put the district in its current position, Kidder said. The state funding formula for schools is more reliant than previously on enrollment numbers, and Frontier is unlikely to see any increase in aid, Antill said. That means the district could stay on the guarantee that keeps schools from having less money this year than they did in fiscal 2013, but that may not remain in place – at least at the 100 percent level – beyond the current budget, he said.