Board members Joe Miller (left) and Jason Wilson (right) discuss the potential tax levy during a meeting. Note: Wilson is not a candidate in this election. (Naomi Merrihuelrving)
Board members Joe Miller (left) and Jason Wilson (right) discuss the potential tax levy during a meeting. Note: Wilson is not a candidate in this election.

Naomi Merrihuelrving

Clayton Tax Levy

March 8, 2019

For the first time since 2003, Clayton will be proposing an operating tax levy increase for Clayton residents to vote on in April.

The School District has been considering an operating tax levy since 2012, but this year the matter had reached a point of necessity.

If the operating levy is voted on in affirmation, the School District will increase local property taxes which go into the District’s budget.

The District’s budget operates under a system of revenues and expenditures, which define when another operating tax levy is required.

The operating levy will effectively prevent the District’s fund balance from dropping below 18 percent, the lowest they would ever consider reaching.

We will see roughly $8 million worth of infrastructure maintenance on both the schools and the Center of Clayton, and the Board of Education is looking into other ways of improving the district.

“There’s a cyclical nature to school finance,” explains Sean Doherty, Superintendent of the Clayton School District. “And part of that is that the school district will build up its fund balance, which is basically like a savings account, over a period of time. And we’ll continue to build that up to a point where the expenditures start going higher than the revenues, and so we’re at that point right now where our expenditures are higher than our revenues coming in. And we’re having to spend down our fund balance, basically our savings account.”

This imbalance is what has pushed the district to put forth another operating tax levy.

Chief Financial Officer of the Clayton School District, Mary Jo Gruber, believes that the operating levy will have a positive effect on the school community, providing the District with more money to fund its infrastructure and educational programs.

“We’re adding new money to our budget to maintain the excellent programming that we’re able to provide for our students, but it’s also to the point where we can make sure we’re taking care of our facilities.”

Gruber described that the funding will be beneficial for the infrastructure in the District. The increased budget will allow the District to further improve the safety and function of our facilities.

“Our work is bigger than just providing the curriculum and the teaching, we have to provide really safe spaces for our students,” said Doherty.

By passing the operating tax levy, there will be money to spend on advancing the infrastructure of the schools in the District.

Some examples of potential changes made to the structures of the schools, given by Doherty, include fixing roofs on some of the older buildings in the District, renovations to school entryways to provide the staff with a better line of sight of who is entering the school, and in general fixing the facilities to make everything run smoother.

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Both Doherty and Gruber agree that the District has reached the time to call for a new operating tax levy on the ballot, the most recent having been in 2003.

“Basically, we have a set budget for facility maintenance and repair every year and some of the projects are a lot larger scope, and they’re very difficult to put into that budget,” Gruber said. “And so they tend to get pushed to a later date and some of those are at the point where we kind of have to stop pushing them. So, like an HVAC system. You can only keep repairing it for so long. But there is a point where you do need to replace it.”

This is not the first time Clayton has considered proposing an operating tax levy since 2003. In 2012, another was considered, but with reallocation of funds and by making significant budget reductions, it was avoided.

“I think that we’ve been very prudent with the way we’ve been spending our money over the last 15 years … we’ve met with our community and took a deep dive into our finances to make sure that we were doing things the way everyone wanted, and fiscally prudent,” Doherty said in regards to the cuts made in 2012.

“The next step for reductions would impact students in the classroom,” Doherty said. “We feel like we made pretty significant cuts that we’ve maintained. And so, there are two options: you reduce expenses, and then you look at revenue. So we feel like the second is the better option.”

John Ryan, an English teacher at CHS and the building’s representative for the National Education Association, believes that the school needs the operating tax levy, and agrees with Doherty that there would be negative consequences if the vote did not go through.

“I personally fear, and this is just me, I’m worried that we would have to increase class sizes, that we would have to see some positions being cut,” Ryan said. “Some of the essential staff who aren’t teachers, but help make our jobs possible, we would lose some of those people. So, I feel it’s really important to see this go through.”

As Ryan said, if the operating tax levy is not approved in the vote, the District would need to make cuts in materials and staff. Doherty wants this to be the last possible option as the District has essential staff currently. “We really want to be leaders of compensation for our teachers. I think that that’s a way to retain good teachers,” Doherty said. “And we also know that our teachers work really hard and we want to make sure that they’re getting paid well.”

In addition to retaining the teachers the School District currently has, it is important to be competitive in the education system to employ the most qualified teachers available.

“We make sure that we are competitive and that we offer enough compensation, including the benefits to staff so that they feel like we’re a good choice when we’re trying to compete for great teachers,” said Gruber.

As of now, the School District of Clayton has gone nearly 16 years without an operating tax levy increase.

Through careful budget management, Clayton has managed to keep the District functioning.

As the careful balance of the cycle begins to inevitably uneven, the times call for yet another to pass.

Presently, the District has placed the operating levy on the April 2 election ballot. If it passes, the district will start receiving new revenue in December.

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