School board finalizes district budget, sets levy
The Stevens Point Area Board of Education set the 2015-16 budget just shy of $102 million at its meeting Monday, Oct. 26, keeping the budget at the same level as last year’s.
The vote was 7-0, with board member Angel Faxon excused and Lisa Totten recused herself due to a conflict of interest.
The state kept funding flat, deciding not to increase the district’s budget this year for the first time in several years.
After removing $8.7 million for the interfund transfer, the net budget the district will have available for spending will be about $93 million, 2.26 percent less than was available last year.
About $34 million of the budget will come from a local tax levy, 5.5 percent more than last year. Nearly half of the funding, 49 percent, is supplied by the state and the rest comes from various other sources.
The levy rate increased by 3.33 percent. The growth in equalized valuation was 2.12 percent, which means the levy rate on property taxes will go up by 27 cents per $1,000 of equalized valuation. This is the maximum levy allowed by law.
The largest expenditure the district has is salary, which takes up 45 percent of the budget. The next largest piece of the budget is benefits, which takes up 20 percent of expenditures. This pays for everyone who works in the district from teachers, administrators and support staff to substitute teachers, seasonal custodial staff and coaches.
Student enrollment decreased by 62 students this year, following a decrease of 82 students from 2014-15. The enrollment count is at 7,400 for this year.
Thomas Owens, the director of business services, said that enrollment has been fluctuating up and down for the past eight years, with no trends in either direction. Numbers have to move in one direction for three consecutive years for it to be considered a trend.
“We had trends where we were quite high, around 8,200 students, and we had years where we were coasting along at 7,500,” Owens said. “If next year we go down again, then we have the start of a trend. Now whether that continues downward or not, we’ll have to see. The only thing we can surmise from this is that it appears that given some kind of odd change in one direction or another, we probably will continue to stay right around 7,500 students.”
Owens said there are no indications at this point that enrollment will change. He said it is also harder now to gauge what enrollment will look like than it used to be.
“You can’t go by birth records anymore because of the mobility of society,” Owens said. “A lot of times the people born in these hospitals don’t live in this community and if they are born here they may live here one or two years and move before they even reach kindergarten.”
Though the exact number is not yet known, a portion of the enrollment decrease is due to students switching to private schools.
Wisconsin Act 55 removed limits on the number of students that can participate in private school choice programs. Funding for this expansion will come directly from local taxpayers.
“The way this is going to work on a continuing basis now, is they (Department of Public Instruction) will determine what amount of money we are to put in our revenue limit exemption,” Owens said. “In this case it’s $361,721. That has to be included in this levy. Then later in this year, $291,000 will be withheld from our state aids in June. That money will find its way to the private schools where these voucher students are attending, within our own district.”
About $70,000 of those funds will remain with the public school district. The rest will go to Pacelli Catholic Schools, which is the only qualifying private school system in the district.
“It looks like, with respect to impacting on our budget a pure financial aspect, it will not harm us,” Owens said. “In fact it helps us to the degree that we come out $70,000 ahead on this arrangement. We are the middle man and they apparently leave a little money on the table for us. But what happens is this $361,000 is a direct tax on the taxpayers.”
The state has not yet released numbers for exactly how many students are using the voucher program or which grades they will come from. Owens said those numbers will soon be released.
“It’s roughly $8,000 (per student) give or take whether it’s elementary or secondary, so that would be about 40 or 45 students,” said Lee Bush, the interim superintendent.
That figure covers only the new students enrolled this year, not existing voucher students.