School district could gain from state budget--if board raises taxes

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Saturday, July 9, 2011
— The financially strapped Janesville School District could benefit from changes in the new state budget, but only if the school board raises taxes.

Worst-case scenario for taxpayers: a 7.5 percent increase in property taxes.

It’s not a done deal, however. The school board must decide how much to increase taxes, and members won’t make their final decision until late October.

The board might discuss the news at its meeting Tuesday.

The issue is arising now because the state recently sent school districts its latest estimate of school aid and the school property tax cap.

The estimate shows a shifting of the burden of funding schools away from the state and onto the shoulders of local taxpayers. Here’s what the numbers show:

-- The state has decreased aid to Janesville. The previous estimate was that Janesville would get $2.83 million less in state aid than in the previous year. Now, the estimate is $4.97 million less.

Bottom line: The district will get $2.1 million less in state aid than it had planned for.

-- The state has increased the amount the school board can levy in property taxes.

The state previously had told the district it would not be able to raise taxes at all. Now, it’s allowed to increase taxes by $2.54 million.

Bottom line: If the school board taxes to the maximum allowed, that’s a 7.5 percent increase over the last tax levy, according to the memo from district Chief Financial Officer Keith Pennington.

Taxing to the max would offset the loss in state aid and give the board about $400,000 more revenue than previously estimated.

Pennington estimated a 7.5 percent increase would mean a tax increase of $65 to $70 on a $112,000 house.

The board must raise taxes by at least $2.11 million if it wants to keep all other things equal in its budget estimate, Pennington said.

Taxing less could lead to the need for more cuts.

The $2.11 million tax would mean about a $56 increase on that same house, Pennington said.

School board President Bill Sodemann was not happy Friday at the prospect of raising taxes.

Sodemann noted that all signals from the Legislature and governor previously had been that local governments wouldn’t be able to raise taxes, and aid would be reduced, but local governments could make up the difference by requiring employees to pay more for their pensions and health insurance.

“I won’t jump to conclusions yet. I have some questions to ask people in Madison to try to find out what’s going on,” Sodemann said.

School board member Kristin Hesselbacher said the board should tax to the max.

“Given that the school board chose to reduce the tax levy in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010—presumably to protect the taxpayers—the time has come to consider taxing to the maximum amount allowed by the state statute for 2012,” Hesselbacher wrote in an email.

“It seems we need to do this every few years to ‘catch up’ to where we need to be in order to adequately fund public education,” Hesselbacher wrote.

Hesselbacher noted the possible new expense from 21 classroom “hot spots,” where more teachers would have to be hired if enrollments increase by more students than projected.

“Given the importance of a strong school system to a community’s economic recovery, I hope the residents of Janesville consider public education important enough to be supported with an increase in their property taxes, which would be at most around $70 for the year,” Hesselbacher wrote.

If you go

The Janesville School Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St. The agenda includes:

-- Discussion and possible decision on how to proceed with a process for possibly closing one or more elementary schools in 2012.

-- Discussion of what to do with a donation of $60,900 from Save Janesville Schools.

-- Consider raising prices for school lunches.

-- Consider canceling the July 26 school board meeting.

Last updated: 5:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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