The South Eastern School District has received permission to exceed its tax cap for the 2013-14 school year.

But school board members on Thursday night said they'd prefer a budget that includes a tax hike of less than that cap, not one that exceeds it.

"We can't keep increasing taxes every year," board member Russell Towson said, a thought echoed by board member Jennifer Tobias.

Jane Mueller said she would support a 1 percent increase and Karrie Strickland said she could support a 1.5 percent increase.

All the board members present at the meeting agreed they do not wish to raise taxes above the tax cap, even though South Eastern has the option of going above its cap of 2.2 percent.

State exceptions would allow the district to raise taxes by as much as 3.5 percent.

The impact: A 3.5 percent tax hike would raise taxes $74 for a $100,000 homeowner, or $111 for a $150,000 homeowner.

A 2.2 percent tax hike would raise taxes $47 for a $100,000 homeowner, or $71 for a $150,000 homeowner.

And a 1.5 percent tax increase would raise taxes $32 for a $100,000 homeowner, or $48 for a $150,000 homeowner.

Now South Eastern administrators have been directed by the board to come back with a budget that keeps taxes under 1.5 percent.

The budget will be presented at a May board meeting.

A zero tax increase would leave South Eastern with about a $2.5 million deficit, while a 1.5 percent tax increase would be closer to a $1.8 million deficit.

Possible cuts: Superintendent Rona Kaufmann already has told her principals and departments to find a way to cut their budgets by 10 percent. But she said full-day kindergarten and reading specialists are among the educational features that will not be cut.

Instead, the district is hoping to make some adjustments in employer contributions to healthcare, as well as leave some positions open.

"We won't be replacing positions we absolutely don't have to replace," Kaufmann said.

Kaufmann said South Eastern could have raised about $350,000 in additional tax revenue if they would have raised taxes to 3.5 percent, compared to 2.2 percent.

The district does have some surplus it can use, about $500,000-$800,000, to help reduce the deficit, but Kaufmann said that's a stopgap solution that can't keep working forever.

Kaufmann said the district had sought the exception only "as a safety net."

Last year, the district raised taxes by 1.7 percent, which was below the tax cap. That was an increase of about $35 on a home worth $100,000.