D-2, with strong reserves, OKs $1.5M tax abatement

RICHMOND – Nippersink District 2 will collect $1.5 million less this year, the school board decided in a 5-2 vote Wednesday evening.

The tax abatement means that the owner of a home worth $200,000 will save an estimated $269 on the next tax bill, according to board documents.

District staff recommended an abatement of $1.5 million because that is about how much the surplus is expected to increase by this fiscal year, Superintendent Dan Oest.

The $10.4 million the district has in reserves is more than enough to cover the improvements to buildings and curriculum the district is anticipating, both plans it has hard numbers for and ones it still is developing, he said.

The recommendation also takes into consideration changes being discussed by the state legislature that would shift some of the costs for the Teacher Retirement System onto local districts, Oest said.

Board President Bert Irslinger’s vote weighed the goals he has as a parent and board member with his responsibility to taxpayers, including those without children in the district, he said.

Board member Mindy Ross said her “no” vote wasn’t because she didn’t trust Oest’s recommendation but because she wanted the decision to be based on a set policy. The district does not have a maximum fund balance policy although the topic has been on the agenda at past meetings.

At past meetings, Ross and the other board member who voted “no,” Matt Johnson, voiced concern about all the financial unknowns in the district’s future. They said they didn’t have enough information to feel comfortable in giving money back.

That was a concern shared by many parents in the audience.

A petition that circulated online and in person asked the district to wait on issuing an abatement until it had long-term plans with cost estimates.

“This should show you that people are concerned,” said Ruth Burlini of Spring Grove, gesturing around the crowded library at Nippersink Middle School.

Some of the speakers voiced their frustrations, asking why one of the parent-teacher organizations had been asked to raise $1,000 for paper and cardstock when the district had so much in reserve or why improvements were only being done now when the reserves totaled $5.5 million four years ago.

The public comment period for the last three months has frequently been heated, with some board members struggling to keep to the policy of nonengagement.

But the policy of not answering direct questions during public comment periods and having only the board president respond to emails has frustrated some parents even more.

One parent, John Bilik of Spring Grove said he didn’t understand why he couldn’t get the information he requested or at the very least, summarize for the public present at meetings what they don’t get to see.

The district has increased what the public can get online over the last several years. The BoardBook section on the district website provides many of the documents and reports given to the board ahead of meetings.

But the board should go further, some of its members said, and a special meeting to conduct a self-evaluation is in the works.

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