School budget keeps taxes in check, protects programs

But shrinking pool of teachers puts pressure on PW-S spending plan
Ozaukee Press Staff

The Port Washington-Saukville School Board on Monday approved a 2018-19 budget that promises to hold the line on taxes while maintaining programs and class sizes despite increasing referendum debt payments.

Behind the scenes, however, a shrinking  pool of teachers and a highly competitive market for quality educators is putting pressure on the district’s delicately balanced spending plan.

“There are fewer candidates for teaching positions, but there are still very good candidates out there,” Director of Business Services Jim Froemming told the board. “You’re not hiring all teachers fresh out of college, but teachers with experience and families, and that can change the numbers.”

The budget calls for a $430,000 increase in salary and benefit spending next school year, due in part to salary increases for teachers tied to a 2.13% increase in the Consumer Price Index under the rules of Act 10, the Wisconsin law that caps salary hikes for teachers. Support staff and custodians will also receive a pay increase tied to the index.

But beyond that, the cost of hiring quality teachers is rising, especially in areas such as special education where demands are increasing and the supply of teachers, especially those with the experience that is particularly valued in this area, are decreasing.

On Monday, the board approved the hiring of three recent college graduates. 

“This will be their first job, but they were outstanding candidates,” Supt. Michael Weber said. 

These teachers will be paid about $41,000 a year. 

The board also approved the hiring of a special education teacher with 20 years of experience. His starting salary is $77,695.

“We have for many years had the theme of hiring the very best teachers for our students,” Supt. Michael Weber said. “When the supply of teachers is plentiful, that’s easier, but we’re in a market where there is a lot of movement of teachers, so if we’re going to remain committed to that theme, it will cost more.

“But on the positive side, we’re hiring the very best of the best, and you can see the impact on students.”

The 2018-19 budget calls for a property tax levy of $16.6 million, an increase of $67,932, or 0.41%, from last school year.

But based on what officials say may be a conservative estimate of a 2% increase in property values, the tax rate is expected to decrease 17 cents, or 1.56%, to $10.20 per $1,000 of a value. 

Theoretically, that means the owner of a $175,000 home would pay about $28 less in school taxes. But if the value of that home increases by 2%, the owner would pay about $7 more in school taxes.

A major factor in the tax levy calculation is the debt payment on the $49.4 million referendum borrowing approved by voters in 2015 to pay for a $3.8 million addition to Dunwiddie Elementary School and the ongoing $45.6 million Port Washington High School project. 

The district will pay $3 million in principal and interest during the 2018-19 school year, an increase of nearly $500,000. The tax levy impact of that payment is $1.84 per $1,000 of property value, which is the amount predicted by the district before the referendum was approved. 

The referendum debt service schedule calls for levy increases over the next couple of years before they begin to taper off, but with borrowing costs already $8 million less than originally predicted because of lower-than-expected interest rates, the School Board has the ability to massage that plan, Froemming said.

The district began the budget process with about a $350,000 deficit, which it chipped away at by making health insurance changes that decreased the predicted 8% increase to 4.4%.

It will also eliminate some bus routes at a time when more parents are driving their  children to school and transportation costs are rising. To do that, elementary schools will start and end their days 10 minutes later.

An increase in state aid also helped balance the budget.

Although approved by the board, the budget is likely to change between now and October when the district receives final state aid and property tax figures and the board certifies the tax levy.

Among the factors that could influence the budget between now and then is an English language learners teaching position the district plans to create to help educate an increasing number of students who are not fluent in English.

Additional teachers and special education paraprofessional positions may also be needed if additional students enroll in the district. 

The district also plans to make entrance and office modifications at Thomas Jefferson Middle School to improve security.     


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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