Orono School Board approves levy at $13.7 million

By Theresa Malloy

The Pioneer

The Orono School Board approved its final 2015 property tax levy for a final amount of $13,654,396. This amount is $94,896 less than the proposed amount in September due to a state correction in the referendum aid guarantee formula. The proposed levy was a 6.47 percent increase from 2014, but the finalized levy passed by the board on Dec. 8 is a 5.73 percent increase.

Business Services Director Tom Stringer told the board the district is “at the lowest tax per household in Hennepin County. It’s a good place to be.”

The increases come from voter-approved levies — the operating referendum, tech levy and construction bond payments — account for 40 percent of the increase. Health and safety will see 13 percent of the increase. The money will go toward fire detection at Orono Intermediate School. A 31 percent portion of the increase will go toward prior year adjustments. The remaining 16 percent will be distributed into miscellaneous categories.

School levies operate differently than cities because only about one-third of the district’s budget comes from property tax revenue. State and federal aid are the biggest contributors of school funding.

The money goes to the general fund. Regular instruction takes the biggest portion of the general fund, which accounts for 80 percent. Operation and maintenance costs are next at 8 percent, followed by administrative costs at 4.5 percent and district services make up 4.2 percent. The rest is divided into many little pieces, Stringer said.

Salaries account for 63 percent of expenses, Stringer said.

The board also heard an annual financial audit report. An independent audit found a “clean opinion” for the district. In the 2013-14 school year, the Orono School Board spent 98.89 percent of the amount it budgeted, totaling $38,948,873.

“The district audit was as good as you can get,” said Stringer, noting areas of the budget that were higher than budgeted last year were due to the unseasonable weather and many snow days.

The extreme cold and snow resulted in higher transportation, utility and snow removal costs. On the flip side, the food budget came in better than budgeted, since fewer lunches were served due to snow days.

Prior to the Dec. 8 meeting, the board honored newly tenured teachers and National Merit Scholars.

Those tenured teachers honored were: Catherine Dorn, Shannon McCauley, Joseph Suchomel, Tara Carlson, Bailey Chandler, Annette Kilpela, Gretchen McQuillan, Sarah Rabideau, Brittany Peterson and Angela Stracke.

The National Merit students honored were: 2015 Commended Scholars Andrew Cornelius, Andrew Cornell, Alexander Kappler, Grace Koehl, Parker Roth and Sean Thompson; Semi Finalist Scholars Julie Berger, Carter Blum and Ellis Hammer.

The board resumes its regular meeting schedule with a 7 p.m. Jan. 12, 2015, meeting.