School budget calls for another tax rate cut

Preliminary spending package for 2020-21 includes 58-cent decrease but will require changes to offset deficit
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press Staff

For the third year in a row, Grafton School District residents will see a reduction in their annual tax rate to support school spending.  

The Grafton School Board on Monday adopted a preliminary tax levy and budget for the 2020-21 year that was approved by electors during its annual meeting earlier the same night.

Business Services Director Topher Adams presented a spending plan that calls for a 58-cent decrease in the mill (tax) rate from $10.21 per $1,000 of property valuation last year to $9.63 per $1,000 for the current year. He said the district’s levy authority would be $18.77 million for the current school year, which was the same amount as last year. 

“This is the first year since 2008 that our mill rate is under $10,” Adams said.

That means the owner of a $200,000 home of equalized value would pay $1,926 in school taxes, down from $2,042, for 2019-20.

While the tax rate has dropped, the levy has not changed because Grafton will have an increase of about 6% in equalized valuation in the school district. 

“Equalized values have gone up, and that drives the mill rate down,” Adams said.

The budget Adams presented shows a $343,701 deficit. However, he said the district could find savings through a reduction in health-insurance renewals and holding off on approving salary increases and paying for new technology.

Adams said the district had to spend nearly $750,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic. That included buying flexible furniture for students to maintain social distancing and air-quality systems, hiring substitute teachers and health aides, purchasing technology for remote learning and other mitigation efforts such as hand sanitizer and signage.

“We’re spending over and above than we would normally spend in a normal year,” Adams said.

The district has budgeted for a 10.5% increase in insurance premiums, but Adams said that will likely be a 5% increase, which will save about $85,000. The renewal will be finalized by the end of October, he said. 

Adams also said the district will save about $210,000 by prefunding its capital maintenance plan last year and it may hold off approving $150,000 in new technology purchases in the current budget and delaying $193,000 in salary increases that are also in the budget but not approved. Adams said there is a fund balance to offset the projected deficit.

Final certification of state aid amounts will not be released until Oct. 15. The three-year student membership won’t be known until the end of the week. 

“We’re using an estimated drop of $1,950. But that is just an estimate right now,” Adams said. 

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