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Schools catch a break with state aid

District buys down debt with added revenues

Oct. 23, 2012

While most school districts in Wisconsin are seeing a drop in state revenue, Oak Creek will see a slight increase for its 2013 budget.

The bottom line is that the additional revenue will help the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District not draw as much on local property tax dollars, though the levy is still expected to increase 0.75 percent.

The district will get $426,894, or 1.5 percent, more in state aid. The main reason? It's tied to how the district cost in property value for pupil is assessed by the state. In short, the district has less property value to support the level of spending.

While the levy will still increase $240,675, it is far below the additional $950,000 maximum the district can generate under current state law, based on per pupil increase as well as the number of pupils.

Given the costs the district faces, that says something, said Cathy Cramer, the director of businesses services for the district.

"The levy is going up 0.75 percent at a time when our costs are going up at a greater rate," Cramer said.

Downing the debt

One way the district is effectively managing its finances is how it addresses debt, given its available revenue this year, Cramer said.

The district will use some of its added state revenue and budget dollars - taking $500,000 from its operating budget - to decrease the amount of money it levies in property taxes for debt. Debt service funds come primarily from referendums and are used in capital improvement projects, such as the renovation of the Oak Creek High School.

The district's reasoning behind putting money in the debt service was that while state aid can change from year to year, their debt fluctuation is less volatile, Cramer explained.

Biggest budget factor

The 2012-13 budget has also benefitted from Act 10 legislation, which removed collective bargaining from the process of setting salaries and benefits.

More than 75 percent of the school budget will go toward personnel expenses. By comparison, over the last 12 years, the rate for personnel expenses has been between 82 to 85 percent, district Superintendent Sara Burmeister noted.

"Even with increases in pay for staff, we have actually reduced the percentage of our budget that is personnel costs compared to previous years' averages," Burmeister said.

Whether Act 10 will continue is a question the district has not addressed in the current budgeting process. The law has been ruled unconstitutional by a Dane County judge, but is facing state appeals and injunctions to keep it in place pending presumed final consideration by the state's Supreme Court.

Higher tax rate

How does the 2012-13 budget translate into the tax impact on individual properties?

Tax rates - an amount expressed in terms of tax dollars per $1,000 of assessed value - will increase from $8.78 to $9.44. This means that the schools portion of property taxes on a $183,000 home in Oak Creek would be $1,727. The rate for a median valued home in Franklin, $236,000, would be $2,227.

Despite the increase, the tax rate is still below the state average, which was $9.88 per $1,000 last year, district officials said.

Cramer said the 2012-13 budget essentially "shows that the school district is doing what it can do to control both its costs and the amount of taxes that it raises."

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