Posted Online: Sept. 04, 2013, 10:09 pm

Colona superintendent backs consolidation

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By Lisa Hammer, correspondent@qconline.com

COLONA -- Superintendent Kyle Ganson told about 50 people Wednesday night that consolidation with United Township High School and its feeder schools was the best financially sustainable option in the long run.

Mr. Ganson said Colona anticipates $600,000 less in state aid this year than in 2008 -- $1.6 million compared to $2.2 million -- and is projecting an education fund deficit of $451,000. A year ago, Colona had a $1.8 million surplus in its education fund and will spend more of those reserves this year.

The district spends about $4 million per year in all funds.

Currently, the combined tax rate with United Township in the Colona district is $4.5641 per $100 assessed valuation. Mr. Ganson said that rate is not sustainable.

"We can't keep operating doing what we're doing right now," he said. "Something has to change."

If Colona does not participate in the United Township consolidation, the new combined tax rate in the district would be $5.3154 -- an increase of $250 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home, he said.If Colona approves a tax increase of $1.1746 in the education fund to balance its deficit and United Township has no consolidation, the district's new combined tax rate would be $5.7387 -- a $391 increase per year for the owner of a $100,000 home, Mr. Ganson said.

If Colona approves a tax rate increase for its education fund and the United Township consolidation plan goes through, the new combined school tax rate in the district would be $6.49 -- a $642 increase for the owner of a $100,000 home. IfColona joins the consolidation effort, the tax rate for district residents likely would be $5.70 -- $378.63 increase for the owner of a $100,000 home. Mr. Ganson said that was the "best-case scenario" for Colona.

"You provide sustainability for your education programs for your kids," he said, adding he would be surprised if the combined tax rate didn't end up below $5.70.

Mr. Ganson said there are statutory limits to tax rates in funds other than retirement, Social Security and tort. He said a consolidation study stated local bonded debt would remain with those schools.

"My feeling is this is an opportunity to become more efficient money-wise for taxpayers in the long run," he said.

Mr. Ganson said state cuts are putting a squeeze on local school districts. He said Colona administrators and school board members are not willing to cut programs or student services to overcome less state funding.

Mr. Ganson said the local elementary school would not disappear because Colona has the third largest student population in the consolidation study. He also said the building is well-maintained.

Board president Jim Legare said he favors the consolidation plan. He said cutting up to five teachers at Colona would only cover $250,000 of the $451,000 education fund deficit.

"You're simply slowing the bleeding," he said. "It's barely getting a tourniquet around the issue. It's not solving the issue."

Mr. Legare said he once opposed consolidation and thought it was a disruption.

"I started looking at the study and the numbers and I realized the cold, hard facts that I don't believe we're a sustainable school district long-term, because the squeeze has been put on us," he said. "The state wants us to consolidate. I personally don't feel like we have much else for options.

Mr. Legare said he would prefer to pay $1.15 more per $100 assessed valuation in school taxes "and get something for it," such as more algebra for students.

The school board will meet Sept. 26, at which time it may vote on further pursuing consolidation.