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Unit One prepares for $1.7 million cut

Thursday, March 09, 2017 - Updated: 11:59 AM
Michele Longworth
Two hand outs and an hour and forty five minutes later, Unit One employees, concerned parents and the public had its first chance to see the potential cuts to the Massac Unit One school district could implement for the 2017-18 school year, and there were many questions and comments concerning the $1.7 million dollars in cuts.
Massac Unit One Superintendent Dennis Smith began the meeting by handing out a packet of papers, the first hand out dealing with the district’s revenue and the various funds the district uses to operate.
Smith told the crowd there are three reasons that have led up to the district’s current financial situation.  The first reason being the vote in 2000 by Massac County voters establishing the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), or what is commonly referred to as “tax caps.”
He briefly explained prior to PTELL, as property values went up, Unit One would receive tax dollars from that.  But, with PTELL in place, it limits the amount the district can receive to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The second reason, according to Smith is the state’s prorating of payments to the local districts.
The third reason, he says is the district has not reacted swiftly enough.
According to the information in the first hand out, Smith says the 2017-18 levy is a perfect example of how PTELL is hurting the district.  It shows the district’s estimated levy amount will be $3,750,991.  However, if there were no PTELL, the district would receive $5,616,000.
Smith pointed out the district receives different kinds of aide from the state, one being general state aide based on the district’s poverty counts and the worth of the county, Equalized Assessed Value of the county, which he stated is about $138 million.
The figures indicate in 2014-15, the district was down over $1 million, and general state aide money was moved into the building fund.  In addition, the district did not receive $266,797 in transportation aide.  There were salary increases and the added expense of modular buildings.
In the 2015-16 school year, there was an additional expense of $673,758, which included a settlement with Unit One retirees, an increase of 3.15 percent; a Blue Cross-Blue Shield increase of 22 percent - or about $12,000 per month; and an $90,000 in retirement payments.
During the 2016-17 school year, there was the expense of the Metropolis Elementary School addition of $1.2 million and the new Massac Junior High School roof of $400,000.  Those expenses as pointed out by Smith were made using the district’s saving’s account in the Education Fund.  Later in the meeting as more questions and comments were raised, those actions by the board came under fire, with many people questioning why the board used money in savings rather than selling a bonds in order to fund the construction projects.
From the figures in the district’s audit, it shows in the 2013-14 school year a beginning balance of $8,007,229.  The 2016-17 beginning balance was $4,672,358, but the projected beginning balance for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year is $1.7 million, with the estimated 2018-19 projected starting balance at a negative $10,284.
Other factors that could have a negative impact on the district are the proposed “cost shift,” and the proposed property tax freeze, both which are being discussed in the Illinois legislature.  Smith said for many years the state has paid 8.5 percent into the teachers’ pension system.  But, for many years, the state has used money that was supposed to have gone into the pension system for other things, leaving a balance of $90 million due to the pension system.
The push in the legislature is to shift that 8.5 percent cost from the state down to the local school districts.  Smith said if that happens, it could mean about a $680,000 cost to the district.
According to Smith, because of the state turmoil and the bleak outlook for Unit One’s financial future, the board had asked him at the end of 2016 to prepare with a list of proposed cuts, to see what $1.7 million in cuts would look like.
The board took a brief break while a second handout of information was passed around to those in attendance.  The second handout was an analysis and recommendations regarding funding concerns for the 2017-18 school year.
Smith said he prepared the information and gave the board the information in November.  That also came under fire by some audience members as they asked why, if the information was given to the board in November, it has taken four months for the board to openly discuss the proposed cuts.
Smith said he went beyond that and the actual total of cuts in the analysis is for $1,827,800 - “overshooting” the amount of money.
“None of these things are good things to do,” said Smith, in regard to his list, which the board first saw in November.
According to Smith, 87 percent of education fund is salary and benefits and the way to reductions is through layoffs, which Smith said is something in this day and time he does not want to have to bring up.
“But, I have to do what I’m getting paid to do,” he said.
Included in the analysis: $467,550 in district-wide cuts; $326,320 in cuts from Massac County High School; $115,000 in cuts at Massac Junior High School; and $918,670 in cuts at the elementary level.
There are no cuts to any sports or extra curricular programs. “I’m not be a person who recommends a sports cut, somebody else can do that.  It’s not going to come from me,” said Smith.

Taking the biggest hit is at the elementary level with the $918,670 in proposed cuts, which includes the possible elimination of:
• MES Response To Intervention (RTI) - $57,730
• MES Assistant principal - $30,000
• MES media aide - $30,000
• MES art/music/RTI - $57,730
• Two elementary art teachers - $115,460
• One PE teacher at county buildings - $57,730
• 19 district reading/other aides - $570,000

Smith indicated the board intends to hold another public meeting, again at the high school, on Monday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m.  At that meeting Smith said he expects the board would take each proposed cut and vote on whether it stays or is cut.
Several audience members asked if there would be enough time between now and March 20 for the board to do due diligence and investigate how the proposed cuts would impact the various schools.
“Yes, we are,” said board member Linda Grace, who said during the meeting she and the board members have asked for people to contact the board with their ideas and suggestions.
Following the meeting, the Planet reached out to Massac County Education Association President Aaron Clark about the Tuesday evening meeting.  Clark said the MCEA has no comment at this time.
To view the entire special meeting and to hear comments and questions raise, individuals may view the meeting on the Planet’s You Tube Channel at www.youtube.com/themetropolisplanet.


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