School district presenting budget to public

Tax rate expected to drop again
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The public will have two opportunities to give their input on the Shawano School District’s 2018-19 budget prior to September’s annual meeting.

The district is holding public forums at 5 p.m. Wednesday and Aug. 29 to explain the new budget and answer questions.

Business manager Louise Fischer gave a dress rehearsal of the budget presentation Monday to the Shawano School Board, showing a $29 million budget with a $91,000 deficit that will be taken from the district’s fund balance.

However, the numbers could change, depending on several factors. One of them is the student count.

The district had 2,458 students when the last official count was tallied in September 2017, a drop of 42 students from the year before. Fischer’s budget figures are calculated with the contingent that the district will see enrollment decline again this year by 40 students, but the numbers won’t be known until the next official count, which takes place the third Friday in September.

“We never know what that’s going to be until we see the little ones here,” Fischer said.

If enrollment numbers continue to drop, the district might have to look at some tougher measures, such as delaying filling staff positions when someone leaves or evaluating if the position is still needed. Fischer noted that all schools and departments are seeing a 10 percent decrease in their individual budgets.

“We’re going to use 2018-19 to strategize for 2019-20,” Fischer said. “There will probably be other budget cuts to look at in the spring of 2019. It’s not a good strategy to use our fund balance for operations.”

Taxes are expected to drop again this year. Currently, property owners pay $9.71 per $1,000 of equalized valuation, but even if property values stay flat, they can expect to pay only $9.58 per $1,000 for school taxes.

Fischer said she has heard preliminary reports that the property values could go up around 1 percent, which would lower the tax rate to $9.48. If the values go up 2 percent, the tax rate would be $9.39, and it would by $9.29 if the values increased 3 percent.

Also of concern is the district’s open enrollment numbers. More students still come into the district while living in other school district boundaries compared with students living within Shawano School District who go to other school districts, but the gap is shrinking.

Five years ago, the district received an additional $446,689 from the state from open enrollment students attending Shawano schools. This year, the district expects to receive only $168,657 because fewer students from the outside are coming to Shawano schools.

“We could easily become an open enrollment expense district instead of a surplus district,” Fischer said.

There is also a concern that the generosity to schools given in the state’s biennial budget in 2017 might not be repeated next year when the Legislature debates a new budget, according to Fischer, which could mean less money from the state and more money the district will have to seek from taxpayers in future years.

“I’m afraid of what the next state budget will look like, and we might be having $10 per $1,000 (tax rates) again,” Fischer said. “We just don’t know.”