Northville Central School District officials are working on a budget proposal that could cut spending, lay off employees, and still raise the tax levy 20 percent to 25 percent.
District officials said the school board likely won’t adopt a 2011-12 spending plan until early next week. Whenever it is final, they conceded, it promises to be grim.
District Business Manager Bruce Ellsworth said last year the district was able to bring an initially projected tax levy hike of 24 percent down to 3.9 percent by using $900,000 of the district’s reserve from previous years, but the district will have only about $350,000 in its fund balance by the end of this school year. The district has about $800,000 in special reserve funds that could be partially tapped to help with the budget, but only with voter approval.
Northville’s state aid has been cut by $556,980. The tiny district has a “combined wealth ratio,” one of the factors used by the state to determine education aid, that is slightly above average. The relatively high CWR score means the district did not get as much benefit from a deal that increased education funding as part of the state’s budget.
Ellsworth said Northville both benefits and suffers from having high-priced vacation property within its district. He said a good portion of the people who actually live in the district don’t have the income levels to sustain a major tax increase.
“We know people can’t afford this,” he said.
The adopted budget will almost certainly include layoffs because without cuts the district would need a 44 percent tax levy hike to maintain all of its current services and staff, Ellsworth said. But only so many teacher layoffs are legally possible in Northville because its teachers union contract includes class size limitations for every grade level, ranging from 25 to 30.
The district recently released an informal survey at a school board meeting in an attempt to gauge how much of a tax increase the public might be willing to support in order to save programs like sports, art and music. Ellsworth said 147 people responded and the overwhelming majority indicated they would be willing to accept a tax increase. The highest hypothetical increase in the survey, however, was only 19 percent — below the 20 percent to 25 percent hike officials are now considering.
Northville Superintendent Kathy Dougherty said she is skeptical of the results of the survey.
“I think the survey confirms the things we’ve heard at the budget forums but we have to be very cognizant of the fact that a good share of our population did not return these surveys, which were distributed around town and on our website,” she said.
Ellsworth said he believes many of the respondents to the survey may have been teachers and some of them may not have been residents of the district.