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By Staff | Mar 4, 2016

Once last fall’s harvest was completed, the machinery put away, and the bins were sealed, it was only a few weeks before plans were being made for this crop year. Seed was purchased, fertilizer and herbicide was booked, and machinery was prepared for the spring.

Then the more difficult job was done when farmer and lender met for the crop year knowing that net income would be down, making it a year to mainly survive.

Cash flows were written making it possible to pay for all the inputs required for the new crop year.

Here it is the month of March and, at month’s end, another bill is due – property taxes.

I could write a lengthy rant about the inherent unfairness of property taxes, but I won’t because that is not the point I want to make.

According to my statement, 60 percent of my property tax payment supports my local school district. The school costs me more than my combined expense of diesel fuel and insurance.

It would seem my next statement would be about why do I have to support my local school at such a high rate?

However, I spent nine years as a member of my school board. I have seen annual budgets and listened to the superintendent, principals, and teachers make decisions about how to get the most from every dollar.

While that was during the 1980s, I believe many of the problems then remain today. The first problem in rural schools in particular is declining enrollment.

Enrollment is one measurement in determining the size of the school budget.

Declining enrollment affects school administrators the same way declining prices affect a farmer, income goes down while expenses remain steady.

Both schools and farmers are in the position of having to do the same as last year with less money.

I remember the superintendent at one of our board meetings telling us that he wished he could sprinkle 50 additional students through the school system because they would not raise the expenses one bit.

The bus routes run every day, meals are prepared in the school kitchen, and well-lit rooms with desks are already here.

Now think how much income another 50 students would provide to the budget. I am not sure what the per pupil rate is today, but if it is $5000 per student, those 50 students would add $250,000 to the annual budget with no additional expense.

Like a farmer who adds more acres to his operation to lower his per-acre cost, schools will be consolidated, as they have in years past, to lower per pupil expense while offering the best education possible.

Consolidation will require making changes in transportation with longer drives for families who live long distances from the school. Scheduling will be made more difficult in general for both school and extra-curricular activities.

Maintaining quality while on a budget will remain a requirement.

So when I write the check to my county treasurer for that installment of my property taxes that are due, I will take a deep breath and write the check knowing that while it seems like a lot to me, there are school boards and administrators who are using my expense as their income and trying to make every dollar stretch.

I wish I had a good solution to this problem, but there is no easy answer in a time of lower farm income and declining enrollment.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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