WESTFIELD — Property owners in the Westfield School District will see an increase of just 2 cents in their school tax rate.
Superintendent Bob Meicher reported a tax rate of $7.48 per $1,000 of equalized value, up from $7.46 last year.
The total tax levy of $7,590,000 jumped 3.2 percent — up $235,140 from last year — but that was balanced out by a 2.9 percent increase in property valuation, which “kept the tax rate relatively flat,” Meicher said.
Westfield is operating at a deficit of about $165,000, with $12,825,400 in revenues and $12,990,400 in expenses. The deficit is due to the purchase of two new school busses, for which the district dipped into its fund balance reserves.
Westfield’s enrollment climbed to 1,176 full-time equivalent students, up from 1,163 students last year.
General state aid in Westfield fell by 5.5 percent to $3,324,600. However, per-pupil categorical aid (calculated separately from general), was up $200 for school districts across the state, and that did result in a significant increase in revenue for Westfield. Categorical aid is money from the state that is issued to school districts for specific spending categories, such as transportation and special education.
Meicher estimated the categorical aid boosts will climb another $200 per pupil next year.
“That’s an extra couple hundred thousand dollars for a district our size,” he said, “so that’s a big help as far as offsetting the costs we have each year. That’s going to help quite a bit.”
Overall, Meicher and other Westfield leaders see a state budget that was “very education-friendly,” which has them optimistic for the coming years.
“If they meet the promises they’re making right now,” Miecher said, “Westfield will continue to be in very good shape.”
Westfield does not have an operational referendum, nor did it issue any private-school vouchers.
Westfield has debt of $900,000 that will be paid off by 2026. The money was used to pay for various facility improvements.
Employee raises for 2017-18 have not yet been set in the Westfield School District due to the lateness of the state budget’s approval, Meicher said. Its budget currently reflects 2016-17 salary levels for administrators and other staff who were employed in the district last year.
Meicher’s first year as the superintendent in Westfield is going well, he reported this week. Meicher, previously the principal at Bartels Middle School in Portage, said the new job offers many of the same things he enjoyed in Portage — and more.
“The variety of grade levels I’m able to work with as administrator” is perhaps the best part of the job, he said. “I loved my time in the middle school (in Portage), but now I get to spend time with kindergarten all the way up to high school.
“I never know what the day will bring, or what level of kids I’ll be interacting with.”
Meicher said the level of support from the Westfield community is on par with Portage’s — an “absolutely wonderful” feature that he’ll never take for granted.
“It’s comforting, because that’s not the case in every community,” Meicher said of support. “(Support) shows in how they take care of their people, with a wonderful staff of teachers who really care about their kids.”
The community involvement was in full display over Halloween, with more than 600 children visiting the schools for trick-or-treating.
“I look forward to going to work every single day,” Meicher said. “I’m very happy.”
Among Westfield’s plans for this school year and beyond is boosting its relationship with area businesses, Meicher said.
Westfield school leaders have been meeting frequently with business leaders “to basically see what the school might be missing” and “what they need from us” to establish partnerships. Specifically, school leaders want to learn what they might do to attract and keep young families in the area, “getting them involved (in the community) right now.”
Extensive job fairs should begin next year, Meicher added, but “right now we’re focusing on the parents: making sure they have easily accessible tools so they can research the different occupations in the area, and what type of schooling is needed to get those jobs.” Such efforts apply to both adults and students in Westfield.