Loss of state aid for Janesville School District is less than expected
The state Department of Public Instruction on Friday released state aid figures for all Wisconsin school districts.
Also on Friday, the Janesville School Board approved refinancing two final payments for money it borrowed more than five years ago for building projects.
Both statements leave average citizens asking, “And this saves me money … how?”
First, consider DPI’s aid numbers. Of all the state’s 424 public school districts, 411 will receive less school aid for the 2011-12 school year.
The median decrease in aid was 9.98 percent. For Janesville, however, state aid dropped 7.98 percent, or $5.43 million.
For the past several months, Janesville School Board members and district administrators have been trying to set their budget without actually knowing how much aid they would lose.
“The last number we had, I think, was $5.8 million in cuts,” said board member Gregory Ardrey.
While $5.43 million is a significant cut, the district will receive $400,000 more than it expected.
“That’s almost half a million,” said Karen Schulte, district superintendent.
Every little bit counts when you’re hunting for revenue.
“I was surprised,” Schulte said. “We had two things left: the tax levy or the fund balance. That dollar amount wasn’t on the table.”
Now, add refinancing to the mix.
In 2005, the district borrowed $6.9 million in general obligation building bonds to pay for improvements throughout the district.
The district had two payments left: $1.1 million in fiscal year 2011-12 and $1.125 million in fiscal year 2012-13.
With refinancing, the payments will be made over three years starting in the 2014-15 school year. The district will make two payments of $740,000 and one payment of $745,000.
Now, set refinancing aside for a moment.
In the past several months, board members have debated whether to “tax to the max.” If the district taxes residents to the maximum allowed by state law, the state gives the district an additional $50 per student. It’s like an ironic reward for hitting the credit limit allowed by the local bank.
For the next budget cycle, taxing to the max would mean increasing the levy by 9.96 percent—costing the average Janesville household $90 a year. But with the refinancing and the additional $400,000 from the state, taxing to the max would mean a 5.75 percent increase in the tax levy.
That would cost the average Janesville household about $52 per year.
But that doesn’t mean the board will decide to “tax to the max,” nor does it make it any easier to decide how to fill the district’s more than $6 million budget gap.
The board has not asked administrators to come up with any more cuts to services, Ardrey said.
Schulte also said any more service cuts would seriously damage the district.