PBL school district expected to lower tax rate again

PAXTON — The Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district’s property tax rate is expected to decline for a second straight year.

The district’s superintendent, Cliff McClure, presented a final version of the district’s 2018 tax levy to the school board Wednesday night, showing an estimated tax rate of 6.098 percent — down from certified rates of 6.199 percent in 2017 and 6.24 percent in 2016.

In the past 18 years, the district has increased its tax rate 10 times and lowered it eight times.

A tentative version of the levy presented in November showed a projected rate of 6.147 percent, but McClure said he was able to lower it after determining that the district’s equalized assessed valuation (EAV) had risen to an estimated $175.3 million, up from $166 million a year ago.

McClure stressed that the official rate will not be known until next spring, when the EAV becomes certified by the county clerks of the counties comprising the district.

“We continue to try to level the rate and even decrease the rate, and I would expect that if the EAV (remains) at (the estimated) level that we would decrease the rate for the second year in a row significantly,” McClure told the board.

The levy shows an estimated $10.69 million to be collected from property owners in the district next summer, up from $10.29 million last summer — a difference of $399,028. The amount to be levied includes an estimated $2.178 million in bonds.

The board conducted a brief public hearing regarding the levy, during which no comments from the public were received, before voting unanimously to approve it Wednesday.

Other business
Also at Wednesday’s meeting:

➜ The board approved Ken’s Oil Service of Forrest as the winning bidder for the providing of diesel fuel to the district over the next two school years. The company — the district’s current provider of diesel fuel — was among two that submitted bids. The PBL school district, along with the Mahomet-Seymour school district, will sign a two-year contract with the company, McClure said. While the district had the option of going with only a one-year contract, McClure said he wanted to “lock in a fixed rate for the next two years” due to the “volatile market.”

➜ The board received notification of the administrator and superintendent evaluation period, and board member Doug Wolken of Paxton volunteered to compile the evaluations from board members.

➜ The board approved the creation of an Art IV course at PBL High School for the 2019-20 school year. It will be an “independent study” course open to senior students who have completed all other art classes offered. “It would allow these dedicated students time to focus on their specific art and style, as well as prep a portfolio if needed for college application,” art instructor Emily Wood said in a written proposal. Students will create their own curriculum, but the course will require them to create one art project that requires art history research, to work in their sketchbook for at least 100 minutes outside of class each week, and to complete and maintain a digital portfolio.

➜ The board approved a resolution authorizing the district to open an online-banking and bill-payment account at The Frederick Community Bank in Paxton.

➜ The board voted to hire Lindsey Alred as assistant softball coach at PBL High School.

➜ The board voted to not release the minutes of closed sessions from the last six months but to destroy any audio recordings of closed sessions that occurred at least 18 months ago.

➜ McClure said the district’s auditor, Russell Leigh, was looking into “an issue” with the district’s Skyward system. As a result of the issue, the monthly treasurer’s report was not provided to the board. McClure said the board will need to be prepared to approve treasurer’s reports for both November and December in January.

➜ Policies proposed by the district’s policy-review committee were presented to the board. McClure said the committee would meet again prior to the January meeting, when the board should be prepared to vote on policies recommended for approval.

➜ The board voted to accept a $600 donation from the Paxton Evangelical Covenant Church, a $450 donation from an anonymous donor for the purchase of classroom supplies, a $250 donation from Beth Boman for the purchase of girls’ basketball shoes, and a $490 donation from John Deere for PBL High School’s robotics club.

➜ The board approved the soliciting of bids for student transportation services for the next three school years. McClure said bids that are received are tentatively scheduled to be opened by the board on Feb. 1, and the board will then vote on the awarding of a contract at its regular meeting in February. McClure said he intends to add language to the bid advertisement to require a minimum starting pay rate for bus drivers that at least matches the average in the area. “We’re always short on drivers,” McClure noted, “and our starting wages are below the area average. So we probably better put a base (pay rate) in there of ‘no less than.’” Also, McClure said, the district will again require the contract winner to have a fleet of buses of no more than three years in age, but he said he intends to also seek alternate bids for fleets of eight to 12 years in age. McClure said eight to 12 years “matches the industry standard,” adding that the bus company currently contracted by the district has a fleet that old and has had “very few problems.” McClure said he also intends to require that the contract winner have at least three spare buses, up from the two currently required.

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