There is much appropriate attention on how Wisconsin school districts are dealing with the decreases in state aid and well below cost-to-continue revenue limit increases in their 2009-10 budgets. More attention needs to be given to 2010-11.
The state budget came too late for many districts to make extensive cuts in programs and services (although Oshkosh closed two schools and districts around the state have scaled back), instead districts are spending down fund balances, refinancing to shift the costs to the future and raising property taxes to get through the year.
They are also planning for cuts in 2010-11. Here is a sample of what school district officials from around the state have been saying recently about their budgets in the future.
Next year could be even worse for property taxpayers. The district projects a jump of $192.50 in taxes on a $250,000 home.
“These (numbers) are ugly,” said Kass. “What I try to do is always show what I believe to be the worst-case scenario. We have 12 months to figure out what areas of flexibility we have. We’ve done a lot of stuff this year. The problem is, when you come up with ways to address those concerns, they’re not there every single year. Areas like decreasing our debt service, which we’re able to do through some refinancing – that’s not going to be there in the future.”
Even with the 8% increase, it is anticipated that deep budget cuts of over $1 million will be necessary for the 2010-11 school year.
While the district finalizes the 2009-10 budget, officials are already preparing for foreseen difficulties in the 2010-11 budget, for which stimulus money would not likely be available and which may further be hampered by changes in state law.
School Board member Dave Szychlinski said it was a tough budget to prepare in light of the recession, especially given many residents’ own financial battles.
“We know that people are struggling, many people in our community have lost their jobs, and yet we have an obligation to prepare our young people for their futures,” he said.
The district was forced to make some tough decisions because of losses in state aid, and officials made about $833,500 in cuts, he said.
Next year will likely bring more cuts, Szychlinski added (emphasis added).
Despite last year’s surplus, [Reedsburg School District Business Manager Pat] Ruddy anticipates major deficits in the future if enrollment holds steady — as much as $1.2 million in 2010-11.
With the recent repeal of the state’s qualified economic law aimed at limiting teacher salaries and a shortfall in state aid, the district’s budget woes promise to only get worse, [Greenfield Superintendent Conrad] Farner said (emphasis added). School officials say the 15.1 percent drop in state aid was the main reason for the tax levy increase.
Farner and other school officials urged the public to contact their state representatives to voice concern over school funding mechanisms.
The projection for the 2010-2011 school year includes further reductions of teaching and support positions as the district continues to meet the challenges caused by declining resident enrollment.
[Menomonee Falls School District Director of Business Service Jeffrey] Gross is projecting a $1.6 million deficit in the 2010-11 school and a $2 million deficit the year after that.
Neenah faces a $2.8 million budget deficit in 2010-11 after its $6 million in referendum money runs out. The shortfall represents about 3 percent of the proposed 2009-10 budget of $84.1 million.
He [Randy Fredrikson, district administrator for Two Rivers Public Schools] said the district will face similar financial circumstances next year.
“It’s not a one-year ‘we’ll get through’ (situation),” he said. “This is going to be the way it is in school budgets for a while.”
School boards across Wisconsin are developing their budgets for the 2010-11 school year, and the early calculations aren’t looking good for property taxpayers.
Something needs to be done for both the long and short term. The long term answer is comprehensive school funding reform along the lines proposed by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), the School Finance Network and others.
The short term must come first and the answer is the Pennies for Kids dedicated sales tax for education proposal WAES is working on.
The prognostications quoted above are only about the 2010-11 budget; looking beyond next year, the future of our state and our children are at risk if action is not taken to head off these scenarios.
Thomas J. Mertz