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State auditor lifts fiscal emergency from the district



Published: Fri, July 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The district superintendent said the board will have to work to make sure the district doesn't go back into fiscal-emergency status.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

LAKE MILTON -- State Auditor Jim Petro lifted the fiscal emergency in Jackson-Milton School District this morning, returning control of the district to its board of education.

A state oversight commission has been in charge of district finances since Petro declared the fiscal emergency in 1998. Today's action dissolves the commission.

Eight districts in the state remain in fiscal emergency.

The state commission voted Thursday to ask Petro to end the emergency. While calling the request a step in the right direction, Superintendent Warne Palmer said the school board must work to ensure that the district does not end up in another emergency.

"I think the challenge for us now ... is to develop a budget and live with it," he said.

Looking ahead: The commission also discussed Petro's five-year financial forecast for the district. Petro had to issue a positive forecast before the commission would ask to end the fiscal emergency.

The commission had to create a financial recovery plan showing that the district could operate without a deficit in each of the next five years.

A spokeswoman for Petro's office said the commission has cut $300,000 from the district's operating budget since 1998.

Joe Funai, commission chairman, called the recovery plan a "reasonable strategy to match revenues with expenditures."

Palmer said cost reductions wouldn't include any major changes in staff. "It will be business as usual, for the most part," he said.

Went into status in '97: Petro declared the fiscal emergency after voters defeated a 5.9-mill property tax levy for the schools in December 1997, leaving the district with an $816,000 deficit at the end of 1997.

The district has an annual budget of about $7.9 million.

The school board borrowed $684,000 from the state that year to help balance the budget.

In May 1998, voters approved a five-year, 9.9-mill emergency levy that generated $990,000 a year for the district. The board had discussed eliminating extracurricular activities and laying off teachers before that levy passed. It is set to expire at the end of next year.

Palmer noted that lifting the emergency would not affect the possibility that the board may ask voters to approve a bond issue next May for the construction of a new high school.

Jackson-Milton High School was constructed in 1913 and is in need of repairs. "The new building is just a community issue that the community needs to face in the short term," Palmer said.

hill@vindy.com




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