DPI estimate indicates district will receive $787,634 reduction for next school year
The Port Washington-Saukville School District could receive $787,634 less in general state school aid next school year, according to estimates released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction last week.
A surprise to school officials who had conservatively estimated that aid would remain flat, a 5.8% decrease in state funding promises to throw a wrench into a proposed budget that already calls for $350,000 in spending cuts and a triple-digit increase in school tax bills to begin paying for $49.4 million in school improvements approved by voters in April.
“We’re being very cautious in reacting to this,” Supt. Michael Weber said. “We don’t want to overreact. We want to study this thoroughly first.”
The Port-Saukville District is in the majority — 55% — of Wisconsin school systems that are expected to receive less general state aid in the 2015-16 school year, according to the DPI.
But among Ozaukee County districts, the Port-Saukville School District, which receives the most general state aid in the county, stands to lose the most.
The Cedar Grove-Belgium and Northern Ozaukee districts are expected to receive more state aid, 2.4% and 10%, respectively, although it’s the Grafton School District that is expected to see the largest increase — 18%, or $960,000.
Since revenue limits are not changing, the most likely result of the increase in general school aid is a tax decrease, Grafton School Supt. Mel Lightner said.
“It’s very preliminary, but right now it’s great news for our taxpayers,” he said. “Let’s hope the numbers stay in place this fall.”
State aid payments will be finalized on Oct. 15.
The Cedarburg and Mequon-Thiensville school systems are expected to receive less aid, 1.6% and 1.5%, respectively, although those districts receive considerably less aid than the Port-Saukville District, so the impact would not be nearly as a significant.
The proposed 2015-17 state budget would maintain general state aid at $4.48 billion, although actual aid payments would total only $4.35 billion because of reductions for the Milwaukee voucher program and charter schools, according to the DPI.
But what’s important for individual districts is how that money is divided among the state’s 424 school districts, which is determined by a complex formula based in part on enrollment, property value and school spending.
Port Washington-Saukville administrators suspect that in addition to a slight dip in enrollment, the aid decrease is being triggered by an increase in property values. That would give the district a higher property value-per-pupil ratio, thus making it eligible for less state general aid.
Last year, the district received $13.5 million in general state aid, double the amount received by any other district in the county except Cedarburg, which received $8.5 million. Grafton, which is often considered comparable to the Port-Saukville District, received $5.2 million in aid last year, probably due in large part to its higher property values.
Grafton School District officials attribute the projected increase in state aid, in part, to the 4-year-old kindergarten program the district started in 2014.
The program, which enters its second year this fall, is expected to have more than 100 students, bolstering overall enrollment and skewing the cost-per-pupil state aid calculation in the district’s favor.
“We knew that having 4-K would have a positive impact on the budget,” Director of Business Services Kristin Sobocinski said.
“But our enrollment in other areas could go down, too. There are so may other pieces involved in state aid.”
Ozaukee Press reporter Steve Ostermann contributed to this story.