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School tax increase a divisive issue

Richard D. L. Fulton

(4/25) The Fairfield Area School District (FASD) Board of Directors will vote this month (May) on the districtís 2014-2015 budget.

Whatever decision the board makes regarding the pending budget will determine whether or not residents can look forward to another tax increase, or get a break for the first time in nearly ten years.

The issue has pitted pro-spending advocates who, basically, believe there should be no limitations on the money invested in the educational system against those who say they are just about tapped out as cost-of-living expenses and other taxes continue to increase.

The Battle of the Budgets began when the prior board voted to allow a draft budget that included up to a 2.6 percent tax increase, the maximum limit allowed under state law.

But some new board members point-out that last year the district took in $700,000 more than expected, and that the surplus needs to be taken into consideration before voting for another tax increase. One school administrator believes that district may have as much as $1,400,000 on hand.

Board member Chuck Hatter said, "It doesn't make sense that the district will have over $1,000,000 left in surplus, and still be asking for a tax increase. These constant tax increases hurt the community, and only provides a couple hundred thousand dollars extra revenue to the district. They are already sitting on over 5 times that amount now."

In the face of the possibility of a tax increase, Hatter pointed out declining enrollment, noting that in 2004 the district enrolled 1,327 students, down to a current number of 1,113, with an anticipated enrollment figure of 1070 this coming fall.

"We will have dropped 257 students over the past ten years, or a decrease of about 23 percent. The costs to teach fewer of our kids has risen over 18 percent just in the past 7 years," Hatter said, pointing-out that the average pay for a Fairfield teacher is over $40 an hour, and there are 84 teachers on staff.

FASD board member Brad Rigler, who sits on FASD Finance Committee, said, "This is an emotional topic because it deals with our kids. Our committee been working hard to craft a budget that will continue to provide for our students, while avoiding another unnecessary tax increase."

The FASD Finance Committee will meet on May 5 at 7:00 p.m. to craft a number of potential budgets which the whole FASD Board will vote on at the next board meeting on May 19.

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