June 21, 2016
Like any business, school districts witness periods when operating costs increase or revenues decline, and in these moments it may become necessary to request a larger share of property taxes. However, as a business that receives funding from property taxes, schools face certain responsibilities to the public when these events occur.
When the need for a tax increase arises, it’s important that the school district communicate the details – or the “who, what, where, when, and why” – of the property tax assessment and school financing, as well as the allocation of the increased funding, with the public who will be effected. This explanation could even be included in the property tax bills where the increase is seen. Regardless, giving property owners advance notice of an increase, along with the rhyme or reason behind it, will minimize the risk of negative reactions and ensure better cooperation from the community.
Most taxpayers appreciate at least a brief discussion of a school budget: where school revenue is coming from, how the funds are allocated, a key list of expenses, and what strategies have been employed to manage these costs. Furthermore, comparing the school budget to that of another school helps clarify any discrepancies that may exist.
Having prepared responses to the following frequently asked questions makes educating taxpayers easier and lessens the likeliness of further issues being brought up:
• Why did the school funding portion of my property tax bill increase?
• How are school tax assessments calculated?
• Is the same formula used for every school district in the state?
• What is the district doing to control expenses?
• Is the district attempting to increase revenue?
• How does district spending per pupil compare to surrounding districts?
• What is local or state government doing to increase revenue?
• What school expenses are mandated or required by law?
• What is the state or federal government doing to control the cost of mandated programs?
• Who oversees the spending for the local schools?
• Do the schools have to account for expenditures to any governing authority?
• If I have an idea for controlling or managing school expenditures, or increasing revenue, who should I contact?
A school district could utilize many routes to have information on school finance issues effectively reach taxpayers. But some are better at providing spaces for addressing taxpayer questions, such as newsletters, podcasts, posts on social media, online discussions, news releases, and town hall meetings.
It is vital that district demonstrate financial literacy and that they are using tax dollars both logically and frugally. By keeping the community informed on the ins and outs of how tax dollars are being used and why further funding may be required, they achieve the trust of the community and support towards school expenditures. Additionally, taxpayers are made aware of the financial struggles that school districts face, benefitting communities in the future.