Cocalico school taxes will respect state index

By on December 28, 2016

The Cocalico School Board has agreed once again not to raise property taxes above the state-mandated index.

At a meeting Monday, Dec. 19, the board voted unanimously to keep any increases below the 3.1 percent maximum increase allowed by the state for the 2017-2018 school year.

School districts can seek exceptions to the maximum if they have extra costs associated with debt, special education services or pension costs.

Cocalico has not sought exceptions since the law establishing maximum increases passed in 2006.

“We have made the budget work for us using only the state established index or less,” Superintendent Dr. Ella Musser said. “We plan to stay at or below the recommended increase.”

Opting out allows the district to finalize its budget later. A preliminary version can be presented to the school board as late as March, versus January, for districts seeking to raise taxes above their pre-established limit.

In other action, Denver Elementary Principal Angela Marley and physical education teacher Michael Sholansky reported on a program that allows the district to track and compare students’ fitness achievement over time and district-wide.

The district received a three-year grant to use Fitness Gram, which measures individual performance on a range of tests that meet the standards set by the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. Information can be stored and reported to teachers and families, but it can also help district officials spot weaknesses in aerobic or strength conditioning. The program provides exercises and lessons physical education teachers can use to work on specific targets.

The first report is scheduled to go home this school year, Marley said. Information presented depends on a grade level, but a sample Sholansky supplied to board members tracked body composition, aerobic capacity, flexibility and musculoskeletal fitness of the upper body and trunk. Parents would be able to see changes over time and follow color coded charts that show healthy targets and potential health risks.

Though the web-based program does provide helpful information, Marley said data entry is “cumbersome.” She said the district is exploring whether to pay for the program after the grant ends next year or to look for something else comparable.

“That’s one of the things we’ve asked: Can we build something better?” she told board members.

The board also voted unanimously to switch to a new automated communication service. Starting in July, SchoolMessenger will provide services such as attendance checks, robocalls for inclement weather and text blasts for emergencies.

The system replaces Blackboard communication services and comes with a lower price tag. Information Technology Director Kent Sweigart said the current contract runs about $8,000 annually; the new four-year agreement with SchoolMessenger has an annual rate of $5,580.

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