Ending the 2016-17 fiscal year in a solid financial position, the Norfolk Public Schools is recommending a slight decrease in its property-tax levy for the coming fiscal year.
That's according to Bill Robinson, the district’s associate superintendent of business services, facilities and maintenance, who led a budget workshop with the board of education at its noon meeting Thursday.
Based on the district's budget, he said the levy could be reduced to $1.188 per $100 of assessed valuation compared to $1.205 in 2016-17.
"The district is able to do this because we do have an aggressive debt reduction plan in place, and as that debt comes off the books — and with the current valuations — it is allowing us to continue to reduce our levy," Robinson said. "All that current bond debt will be paid off in full by 2024. We really have made great strides in this area in the past six years with over a 13-cent levy reduction."
Budget and tax request hearings will be part of the board's next regular meeting Monday, Sept. 11, after which the board members will vote on whether to approve what was presented to them at Thursday's meeting.
For the 2016-17 fiscal year, revenue was $43,259,903, with expenditures being $42,732,524.68. That leaves the district with a cash balance growth of $527,378.32
The district went into 2016-17 with a deficit because of a reduction in state aid.
Luckily, the district's state aid increased this year by $185,620, providing it with $9,613,112 in aid. Still, Superintendent Dr. Jami Jo Thompson said — while state aid fluctuates from year to year — the district has seen a $1 million decrease in aid over the past 11 years.
Meanwhile, revenue from property taxes increased by about $9 million.
"That means we are becoming more and more dependent upon local property taxes to fund our schools," Thompson said. "However, we have really tried to lessen that burden on our local taxpayers by reducing our levy. We are reducing our levy by 1.7 cents this year, and overall we have reduced it 13.59 cents in the last seven years. While we were doing that, we were able to maximize our cash reserves and make some very significant investments into our infrastructure."
Thompson said thanks to the board's efforts, the district is in strong position to address its growing student enrollment. Enrollment has increased by 384 students in the last 10 years.
"Whether that means we need additional facilities, staff or both, we have the financial resources to address those needs," Thompson said.
Thompson also said that Norfolk Public Schools ranks 21st out of 246 schools in Nebraska in terms of efficiency. The district's cost per pupil was $11,168.03, which was $733.84 less than the state average.
"We can honestly say that we provide a high-quality education at one of the lowest costs in the state," she said.
Robinson said the district would need to keep an eye on the next state legislative session, as changes to the state aid formula and property taxes could always affect the school's financial situation.
But several board members expressed that they were pleased with the current budget.
"As a board, I know we all appreciate the conservative approach that we have taken for a number of years because that's enabled us to be in a strong financial position," board member Patti Gubbels said.