School choice comes at a cost to local taxpayers

PW-S levy increases $460,885 to make up for loss of aid to voucher program
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington-Saukville School District residents will pay nearly a half-million dollars in taxes to send students to private schools this school year under a Wisconsin private school choice program that is having an increasingly significant impact on the local school property tax levy.

The Port Washington-Saukville School Board on Monday certified that levy, which is increasing by $627,024, and approved a revised 2019-20 budget that will result in higher tax bills.

The levy increase is driven by several factors — referendum debt, an increase in the district’s state levy limit and increased enrollment — but the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, which provides tuition vouchers for students to attend private schools, has become another significant factor in the district’s tax levy equation in just the last few years.

“Four years ago, our taxpayers weren’t paying anything to send kids to private schools,” Jim Froemming, the district’s director of business services, said. 

This school year the district will see a $460,885 reduction in state aid because about 70 of its students are using school choice vouchers to attend private schools. That reduction is $131,000, or 33%, more than last year when there were about 50 students in the district who attended private schools through the choice program.

School districts are allowed to increase the local property tax levy by an amount equivalent to the reduction in state aid due to school choice, and that’s what this year’s Port-Saukville School District budget does.

The $460,885 levy increase accounts for 26 cents of the $9.61 per $1,000 of property value tax rate, which, for instance, is nearly double the amount the district taxes for the public use of school facilities through its community service fund, Froemming said.

The statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program allows students from families that meet income limits to attend private schools using tuition vouchers. Those vouchers are essentially funded by a transfer of state aid from a student’s resident public school district to the private school he is attending.

Four of the largest parochial schools in Ozaukee County — St. John XXIII Catholic School in Port Washington, St. Joseph Parish School and St. Paul Lutheran School in Grafton and First Immanuel Lutheran School in Cedarburg — participate in the school choice program.

The Port Washington-Saukville School District’s tax levy of $17.2 million represents a 3.78% increase, but because equalized property values jumped nearly 5%, the tax rate has decreased by 11 cents, or 1.1%, to $9.61 per $1,000 of property value.

Nonetheless, school property tax bills will increase because of property value appreciation. The tax bill for the owner of a property worth $175,000 will increase by about $64 based on the average property value increase in the district, according to Froemming. That increase will be slightly greater for residents of the City of Port Washington, where property values increased by an amount greater than the district average, and slightly lower for residents of the Village of Saukville, where values rose less than the average.

Contributing to this year’s tax levy increase is a $3.4 million referendum debt payment that accounts for $1.89 of the $9.61 tax rate. 

“We’re at the peak,” Froemming told the School Board, referring to the impact referendum debt will have on the tax levy over the next 20 years. “We are right where we said we would be from the first day of referendum planning.”

The district’s referendum debt levy this year is slightly higher than that of the Grafton and Mequon-Thiensville school districts, which are levying about $3 million each for  referendum debt, and considerably lower than the $4.7 million levied in the Cedarburg School District, according to figures compiled by Froemming. 

As a percentage of its base revenue, the Port-Saukville School District debt levy this year is 12.7%, lower than any of the four other school districts in the county except the Mequon-Thiensville District, and that district is planning another referendum.

Port-Saukville School District voters approved a $49.4 million referendum in 2015 authorizing a $45.6 million high school project and a $3.8 million expansion and renovation of Dunwiddie Elementary School. Both projects have been completed.

Also contributing to the tax levy increase is a $175-per-student increase in the district’s levy limit and an enrollment increase of 32 students.

Among other budget dynamics, salaries and wages have increased by $840,315 for a total of $20.96 million, a reflection of district efforts to attract and retain the best available educators.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login