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Lake Tahoe school improvements kept in district’s budget … for now

Rob Bhatt

Douglas County School District trustees on Wednesday adopted a budget that sends no message as their political message about the county’s possible split.

The trustees unanimously decided to scrap language that would condition $1.5 million in improvements to schools at Lake Tahoe on the district remaining intact.

None of the seven members on the board support funding a library addition at George Whittell High School or additional classrooms at Zephyr Cove Elementary School if the lake schools are separated from the rest of the district.

However, the trustees chose to wait and see how the legislature acts this summer on proposals to realign the county or district before the board re-evaluates its capital project list.

“We decided to not send a hard message right now,” Board President Cheri Johnson said after the budget passed. “We’ll just go to the legislative sessions and see what falls out.”

Board members did acknowledge that if the Legislature does support a new county or school district at Lake Tahoe, the capital projects list will have to be reprogrammed.

“It would be irresponsible for us as trustees to spend taxpayer dollars in an area that won’t be a part of the district,” said Board Vice President Mary Bennington, the only trustee residing at Lake Tahoe.

As approved Tuesday, $1.2 million of the $1.6 million in improvements on this year capital projects list are proposed for the Lake Tahoe schools. The planning for most of this work would likely not begin until the summer. By then, the Legislature will have taken at least initial action on proposals affecting the district’s configuration.

Overall, the district’s 1997 operating budget includes about $600,000 more in expenditures than revenues.

Rick Kester, the district’s business services director, attributes the revenue shortfall to the recent openings of three schools in the Carson Valley.

The district earlier this decade built reserves in anticipation of the increased operating costs accompanying the school openings. Kester advised that the trustees should address bringing expenditures back in line with revenues this fall.

For an organization that spends 86 percent of its operating revenues on salaries and benefits, Kester later said that the most likely way of balancing future budgets will be a slight increase in class sizes.

Total operating expenditures for the 1997 fiscal year, which begins July 1, are forecast at $38,498,441, a roughly 1.4 percent spending increase from 1996.

The budget takes into account the addition of 200 new students to the district and includes the hiring of eight classroom teachers and one English as a Second Language teacher.

The most notable increase in the district’s spending plan, however, may come from the decreased debt service assessment.

The rate will drop 6 cents from the 1996 rate of 29 cents for every $100 in assessed value. The 1997 rate, 22.5 cents, equals a roughly $65 tax decrease for a home valued at $300,000.

Kester said the district was able to make this cut because it obtained bonds issued in 1992 at lower interest rates than originally projected and property tax values increased more than anticipated at that time.

Also on Tuesday, the board approved bids on $778,632 worth of maintenance projects. The list of approved projects, which should begin this year, include carpet replacement and drainage improvements totaling more than $200,000 at Whittell, Zephyr Cove and Kingsbury Middle School.


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