Many different opinions were aired at the last community meeting hosted by the Morgan County School District discussing the voted local levy. The April 18 meeting was held at Morgan Elementary School and was one of the last of the 18 meetings the district scheduled to disseminate information regarding the levy that will be on the June 25 ballot.
“The local levy is a tax increase,” Superintendent Ken Adams said. “That is a fact we are not trying to hide.”
Brent Anderson, who said he paid $6,300 in taxes last year to the school district, said he had concerns about the levy.
“When are we going to learn to cut back?” Anderson asked the superintendent and school board members. “I have had to dramatically cut back in my own life. As a taxpayer, education is important to me. But when do we stop?”
Anderson said he was concerned because there is a big difference between the 0.000476 that the school board has committed to assess property owners if the levy passes and the higher 0.0016 rate that will be on the ballot. The lower rate is 30 percent of the rate that will be on the June 25 ballot.
School board member Jody Hipwell asked voters to trust their elected officials to stick to their word, and pointed to two years out of the last eight when taxes benefitting the school district have actually decreased.
“Our past record has been we are frugal with our spending,” Hipwell said. “You have to have faith in who you have elected.”
That faith may be wavering a bit, according to one resident who said a majority of the meeting’s audience were employed by the school district.
“People in our community have felt accosted by the school board,” Jana Peay, who has had nine children go through Morgan schools. “That hurts. People feel they can’t come to the meetings and be heard. There are better ways to handle things.”
Boardmember Ken Durrant apologized, saying, “We should still be friends.”
“There will be a tomorrow regardless,” Durrant said. “We will still be neighbors.”
“We can still debate the issues and remain good friends,” Adams said. “It is an issue, but it doesn’t have to divide us. We can leave personalities out of it and respect one another.”
One audience member suggested the district should focus on core academics and cut all extracurricular programs before asking for a tax increase.
Adams agreed that would guarantee passage of the levy, but the board has already headed that way by escalating fees for extracurricular, club and organization travel.
“We are out of options,” Adams said.
Resident Jenny Earl said the answer lies in convincing the state to quit cutting funds to rural school districts.
“We need to go to the state and tell them to quit putting pressure back on the local school board,” Earl said. “They are not giving us enough to sustain this area.”
Board president Bruce Galbraith publicly expressed his intention to vote for the levy.
“There is no fat left in the budget to cut,” he said. “We’ve had people come in to look at the books, and they don’t come back to offer ideas on where we can cut.”
Scott Bowers, who moved to the county over a year ago after researching test scores, said he is worried about the district’s slipping test scores.
“You are way behind,” Bowers said. “I am shocked at how far behind some of the reading is.”
Adams said the district’s presentation has changed from meeting to meeting because school finance is a complex topic.
“It’s like shooting at a moving target blindfolded,” Adams said. “It is always changing.”