The Cedar Rapids Community School District’s school board will vote Monday on whether to potentially raise the property tax levy rate to $15.85 per $1,000 2014 fiscal year. That’s an increase of 69 cents per $1,000 over the current fiscal year.
Steve Graham, executive director of business services for the district, is scheduled to present the plan at the regular board meeting. If members approve the increase, administrators will publish the budget and schedule a related public hearing, currently planned for 5 p.m. Monday, April 8 at the district’s Educational Support and Leadership Center, 2500 Edgewood Road NW, Cedar Rapids.
Following the public hearing, administrators will have the opportunity to alter the budget – including lowering the levy rate – before the state’s Monday, April 15 deadline for school boards to certify district budgets.
“It’s a strategy,” Graham said. “Because we don’t know yet, in Des Moines, at the capitol, what allowable growth is going to be for fiscal year 2014. We’ve got to protect our revenue sources under the current rules.”
The district’s proposed 2014 budget is based on an assumption of no increase in allowable growth, the state’s funding mechanism for school districts, and a $5 million increase in the general fund cash reserve levy.
Legislators are currently debating allowable growth funding, with a proposed Senate bill calling for a 4-percent increase and $400 more dollars per student. House legislation includes a 2-percent boost with about $300 per student, conditional on districts adopting other pieces of education reform.
“It would be very helpful if we had more definitive information from Des Moines than we do,” Graham said.
He and other district administrators, including Superintendent Dave Benson, have vocally supported a 4-percent increase in allowable growth.
“I think our school district and our board have been very clear that 4 percent allowable growth is an absolute minimum necessary for our school district,” Graham said. “Four percent allowable growth would provide for a return for what we would call a reasonable amount of funding, a responsible amount of funding from the state Legislature.”
Other question marks in the budget process include the impact of federal sequestration and unfunded mandates.
The tax-rate hike is largely due to the district exercising its option for a budget guarantee which provides for 1-percent funding growth financed through local property taxes.
Graham said it would be “ideal” for board members to know the allowable-growth rate in time for the April 8 board meeting so the budget could reflect that certainty.
“It would be very helpful if we had more definitive information from Des Moines than we do,” he said. “It is less orderly than it probably should be but it’s just the reality.”