W-S approves tax levy decrease, though referendum looms

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By Correne Martin

The Wauzeka-Steuben School District approved a tax levy of $1,019,503, and a mill rate of $11.68, for the 2019-20 school year, to be extended to all taxable property within the district. 

This means that, for every $1,000 of taxable value, $11.68 is asked in taxes to the school district—or on the typical example of a $100,000 home, $1,168 is owed.

According to information presented at the district’s Oct. 28 annual meeting, the school tax levy will decrease by 6.88 percent from last year, and the mill rate will also go down from $12.71 to $11.68.

This mill rate is still the highest among area districts, yet district business manager Jeff Mara drew attention to the fact that, the next three years, if all operating remained the same, the rate would continue a downward trend because Wauzeka-Steuben looks to pay off its two loans (one in September 2019 and a second) by February 2020. With no new debt, mill rates would be estimated around $10.86 for 2020-21, $10.51 for 2021-22, and $9.01 for 2022-23.

However, part of the Oct. 28 meeting also involved an operating referendum discussion, with most outspoken community members in favor, and a few others opposed, to the probable April 2020 referendum.

“A referendum would allow us to bring the tax rate back up,” Mara said. 

According to the proposal presented to over 50 audience members last week, a three-year non-recurring referendum totaling $695,000—$163,000 in year one, $197,000 in year two, and $335,000 in year three—would generate enough revenue to provide for current staffing and programming to remain the same. Any extra revenue would be placed in the maintenance account. 

This proposal is based on keeping a level school tax rate of no more than $12.71 per $1,000 over the three years of the referendum.

Mara said, if a referendum was approved, taxes would go up $185 per $100,000 home the first year in 2020-21, $220 the second year and $370 the third year.

The presentation showed projections without a voter-approved referendum leaving the school district in the red, with an increasing deficit of $110,141 in 2020-21, $255,214 in 2021-22, and $521,857 by 2022-23. Mara said these numbers include all district purchases anticipated in those years.

Interim Superintendent Gary Albrecht insisted that the communities of Wauzeka and Steuben as well as the school are going to need to continue economic development efforts in the coming years, whether or not the referendum passes. 

“Because it’s likely the board may come back after three years with another referendum,” said Albrecht, who will complete his second year at Wauzeka-Steuben and be finished with the district Dec. 31, at which time a new administrator will take over.

He shared that the county and community stakeholders started, a few months ago, conducting economic development meetings, including committee work on housing, business retention and attraction, recreation and other topics. He urged annual meeting attendees to join those discussions. 

Albrecht said another open forum, like at the Oct. 28 meeting, is planned as part of the regular school board meeting on Monday, Dec. 16. Again, he encouraged citizens to participate. 

A key concern, and reason behind Wauzeka-Steuben’s school funding situation, is enrollment decline in the district. This is what determines the revenue limit authority for Wisconsin’s public schools, according to Albrecht. 

This year, there are a total of 254 students enrolled, with the smallest classes being 12 and 13 students in kindergarten and seventh grade, respectively. Mara said predicted enrollment for the coming years shows a gradual downturn to 256 next year, 246 in 2021-22, and 233 in 2022-23. By the year, 2026-27, if more students aren’t gained through the district or open enrollment, the projection is 220 students. Mara pointed out, though, that declining enrollment due to declining population is happening all over Crawford County and Wisconsin.

For the current year, 32 students have open enrolled into the Wauzeka-Steuben School District, while 49 are open enrolled out to other districts. 

“We went through the numbers, family by family, and over half of those have never been in our district,” Albrecht stated, noting that includes 20 families.

Currently, he added, the district gets $11,400 per student in state funding. It pays $7,700 per student to the districts to which they open enroll. 

Some discourse about enrollment, programming options and marketing took place at last week’s meeting, but the board welcomes more input on the subject.

Toward the end of the meeting Oct. 28, one district parent who homeschools her children suggested the board and community put their “thinking caps on and look more seriously at where to cut this out of control budget.”

Another parent reacted by saying, “It’s important to remember, cutting isn’t going to bring more people to our district. If you lose your property values, you lose your school.”

Board President Tom Jazdzewski also responded. “We definitely need to think outside the box and react and prepare accordingly,” he said. “But we did $600,000 worth of cutting about three years ago. We do have a part-time administrator right now. We’ve started marketing campaigns. This is something that hasn’t happened overnight. We’re not asking for a lot more than we’ve asked before.”

He concluded, saying, “The board supports a $12.71 mill rate (moving forward)...to continue your school as it is now. If the referendum doesn’t pass, the general fund will be gone in three years.”

 

Oct. 28 annual meeting 

2018-2019 Financial Highlights

Updated Chromebook inventory with 25 new-$6,625

Teacher lounge copier was in need of replacing. Replaced with refurbished color version reducing the number of color cartridges needed annually-$5,000

Replaced roof scuppers-$32,000

Replaced all interior doors to reduce size of windows for safety reasons-$45,000 (80% grant funded)

Football scoreboard needed replaced-$10,640. Boosters paid half.

Opened Fund 46 (capital projects)-$351,000

Replaced PA system to provide better coverage using School Safety Grant funding for 72%-$27,000

Purchased new 10 passenger van. DPI approved leasing the van to the CLC program-$27,000

Updated eight Smartboards-$27,973 (65% grant money)

Refinished flooring throughout building to extend life 12 years-$73,000

Sealcoating and repairs to asphalt-$11,000

Bleacher repairs and installation of handrails in main gym-$16,000. Boosters contributed $7,167

Replaced two furnaces in shop and classroom-$5,850

Academic, Athletic & Club Highlights

80% pass rate in AP courses

ACT scores are rising

Distance learning offerings continue

German, Chinese and Spanish are offered

11 high school students participating in youth apprenticeships

Ninth grade class trip pie fundraiser netted $6,000 in profit

Seniors took a trip to New York City

Overnight education participation at Wisconsin Badger Camp

Participation in the Women in Engineering Symposium at UW-Platteville

Conference and post-season championship teams in nearly all sports

Runner of the Year and Coach of the Year for Cross Country

Increased social media presence on Twitter and Instagram

Coursework and cafeteria offerings promoting healthy living habits

Planetarium experience

Health career trips taken

Community cleanup done

Participation in kids heart challenge

Four FCCLA students went to nationals in California

26 high school members are on the math team

FFA judges competed in local contests, six went to the national convention

Students provided labor at Crawford County Clean Sweep

Student-made co2 vehicle placed second at the state tech ed competition

Trap club has grown from 16 shooters to 25, 10 shooters were eligible for nationals

32 students stay after school for the community learning center. That’s up from 27 the prior year. 80% of regular attendees completed at least one of the academic nights offered

Shared a school resource officer with North Crawford. The officer meets 1-2 times per week in the school or community. She will now start spending one hour per week at the Wauzeka BP for community and parent discussions.

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