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In his annual state of the district evaluation, Monticello School Superintendent Vic Zimmerman has Monticello school district at the top of the heap in his data-driven comparisons between 10 area school districts. But financial concerns actually made him downgrade the state of the district from the ‘excellent’ rating of 2011.
“This year I’m calling it positive but guarded,” said Zimmerman. “Positive because we came into the school year with fund balances and that we are moving in the right direction our instruction, but guarded because of our $2 million budget deficit this year, and unknowns about CPPRT,” he said at the Nov. 14 Board of Education meeting.
Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax funds usually make up about 45 percent of district revenues, but CPPRT revenue has been on a downward trend since 2008, and is expected to total $5.1 million for Monticello this year, $1.8 million less than two years ago.
The good news is Monticello ranked No. 1 in Zimmerman’s rankings, which are based on standards he developed four years ago and has been using ever since. The rankings rely on student performance (40 percent of score), financial health (25 percent), starting teacher’s salary (25 percent) and tax rate (10 percent). Monticello was first in tax rate, second in performance and financial health, and third in salary. Rounding out the top five districts were Mt. Zion, Mahomet-Seymour, Maroa-Forsyth and GCMS.
Schools in the rankings are all unit school districts with an enrollment between 1,000 and 3,000 students that are located within 30 miles of Champaign or Decatur.
At 1,663 students, Zimmerman said Monticello has seen steady enrollment numbers for decades and does not expect big dips or large increases in the near future.
“The only real chance for us to grow significantly and quickly would be if the state really comes down and are not going to allow school districts to have less than 500 students, which could force consolidation on us,” he said.
The study also showed Monticello has 15.3 percent low-income students compared to a state-wide average of 49 percent; boasts class sizes well below state averages; and is the second largest employee in Piatt County (189 employees) behind Kirby Medical Center.
Board members voted to put forth a tax levy that should translate into a similar tax rate similar to the $3.33 per $100 equalized assessed valuation rate of last year – but not without concern that the rate could rise in 2013.
“The downward cycle (of CPPRT) is as long as its ever been,” said school board president Jim Coleman. “This should be an item of serious concern, because there’s no indication of anything good just around the corner.”
In the past, replacement taxes have dipped for 2-3 years at a time then picked up again, but there is not as much confidence they will come back to pre-2008 levels, especially with the financial issues facing the State of Illinois.
There has been talk of the state keeping a portion or all of CPPRT funds instead of distributing it to schools and other taxing bodies. Zimmerman said the district would need a $1.50 hike in the tax rate to replace CPPRT revenue should it be completely eliminated.
A proposed 2012 levy (payable in 2013) of $7,641,000 is slightly above last year’s $7,379,165 levy, but is 7.1 percent higher than the amount the district actually received from property taxes, so a truth-in-taxation hearing will be held at 6:45 p.m. Dec. 19 prior to the regular school board session.
Last month the board discussed the possibility of increasing the maximum rates allowed in some funds, including the education fund, but decided to wait a year to see if CPPRT bounces back. The idea of working cash bonds was also discussed as a temporary way of generating more revenue for the major operating funds.
The district entered this school year with $7 in reserves across all of its funds.
Home school request
Doug and Trish Bright asked the board if it would be possible for their son, Dylan, to walk across the stage at high school commencement ceremonies next spring. He is home-schooled but takes some courses at Monticello High School.
“We ask that you allow him to have these last memories of Monticello,” said Doug Bright, who added they would be happy to provide transcripts of his classes taken while home-schooled.
No answer was given at the meeting, but Zimmerman said current policy is that a student needs to meet graduation requirements and be a full-time student of the district in order to take part in graduation exercises.
Board members heard an update from new technology coordinator Wendy Stokowski. Projects in recent months have included installation of 64 new Wi-Fi access points, coming up with a district-wide equipment inventory, and instructing teachers on technology ranging from Skype to consideration of a digital newspaper and/or magazine.
Stokowski said her department receives 50 to 55 requests per week, and that the district has an average of 450 devices connected to its wireless network each day.