School District #18 Valuation Surpasses $623 Million

The valuation of property in School District #18 has climbed to a mark some might have felt unattainable just a few years ago.
County Assessor Heather McWhorter announced last week the school district tax valuation was set at $568,185,395. Add to that amount $15,470,980 from Wheeler County and another $39,516,097 from Boone County and you reach the grand total of $623,172,472. But just what does that mean to the taxpayer? Superintendent Dan Polk set about last week to explain the numbers.
One of the most complicated financial processes in the U.S. local system of government is school finance.
From how state aid is distributed (state aid formula) to how the structure of the budget works; it is complex for even those who work with it throughout their adult lives within their careers or while sitting on local boards. The total budget can grow without “tax asking”–the amount the school district asks from taxpayers to run the school– growing. “Tax asking” can grow without the total budget growing. On top of all the different funds—general, depreciation, lunch, special building, student fee, etc.—are the ins and outs of how they intertwine and state government trying to manipulate and control local government entities who are statutorily supposed to have local control.
In actuality it is far more complicated than the basics to come in this article, but the following is it in a nutshell. The state limits how much a school district can spend (grow) year to year with Elgin’s standard growth to be allowed at 2.5%.
If you choose not to grow that much in one year you cannot grow even part of that 2.5% with the next year’s 2.5%. So you are basically punished for not growing every year. In districts where they are at or above the levy limit you can only grow if you can raise the money…..otherwise you have to cut programs or have an override election. In districts where your levy is lower, you can always grow a little but your costs can expand faster than you can grow.
If you are too efficient and conservative or don’t take your yearly growth allowed, you could have plenty of funds to operate, but not have the authority or growth to spend them; and thus have to cut programs even though you have enough money. Thus the dilemma, be too frugal and efficient and you could be in jeopardy but be too “spendy” and you could also be in jeopardy.
The Elgin board has always tried to balance this situation and has instructed me in my time here to do the same. With the extreme increase in the district’s valuation, the levy is going to drop like a stone.  Does this mean no increase in tax asking for the district? No it does not. Just like any business a school’s costs rise as well. Fuel for the buses and buildings, salaries for employees, food for the breakfast and lunch programs, new technology, new curriculum materials, higher costs for special (but required) special education and English as a second language programs and help, etc..
On property valued at 200,000 dollars last year that went up (40%) to an approximate value of $280,000 this year, the tax asking for the school district will increase approximately $10 a month. If you had 200,000 worth of valued property that did not increase in valuation much, your taxes will drop approximately $21 a month.  Last year’s levy was 58 cents for the general fund and three cents for the building fund for a total of 61 cents. Next year’s levy, assuming all was calculated correctly and decisions are made to move forward with the budget presented, will see the levy fall to 45 cents for the general fund and three cents for the building fund for a total levy of 48 cents. That means the levy will fall 13 cents in a single year.
In my 25 years in education never have I seen valuations increase this much in one year AND/OR a levy fall this much in one year. In my opinion your Elgin Public Board of Education is doing things, and expecting things to be done correctly. They are as conservative as they feel they can be in spending money while at the same time looking out for the integrity, improvement and long term health of the district, its facilities and students.
2013 Tax rates for area school districts according to http:/// change bycounty.html:
Battle Creek .96, (1.08 with bonds), Boone Central .79, Chambers .97, Clearwater .95, Creighton .94, Elgin .61, Elkhorn Valley .97, Ewing .95, Neligh/Oakdale 1.07, Orchard .92 (.94 with bonds), Plainview .79, Spalding .95, Wheeler Central .63 (.66 with bonds).