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State aid drops, again — school levies rise

July 21, 2010 | 09:00 AM
Every July it seems to be the same story. The annual loss of state aid continues to plague the school districts in Lake Geneva and is the main cause for an expected rise in local property taxes again for next year.

With an estimated loss of more than $1 million in state aid combined, the Badger High School tax rate is estimated to rise 6 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. The expected loss in state aids in the Lake Geneva Area (Joint 1) Elementary School District could lead to a raise in the tax rate by as much as 45 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value on the upcoming tax bills.

Last week, the local school boards approved their tax levy increases. The Badger levy is at $17.32 million, up 4.62 percent from 2009-10. The Elementary School District levy is up 11.41 percent, to $16.24 million. If those figures remain the same, the tax rate for Badger will be $4.07 for every $1,000 of assessed value. For the Joint No. 1 district, the rate is estimated to be $5.97 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

That means, the owner of a home assessed at $250,000 will pay $1,492 — $112 more in taxes for the elementary and middle schools, and $1,017 for the Badger district — $15 more than last year.

"The loss of state aid and what it does to the community is frustrating," Lake Geneva School Business Manager Warren Flitcroft said.

Because of relatively high property values in this area, the Lake Geneva Schools are looked at as rich districts. Tax money from all properties goes to the state to partially fund schools. There, state officials use the funding formula to decide which districts and areas receive what amounts of aid. For years, the local schools have been losing the maximum amount of state aid, which is 15 percent.

In the Badger district, 82 percent of revenues comes from local property taxes, while just 15 percent is from state aid. For Joint No. 1 district, 65 percent of the revenues are paid for through local property taxes. About 30 percent is from state aid. But, for both districts, those state aid numbers have been dropping the past few years.

What the local schools don't get in state aid, the local taxpayers must make up.

"We are again losing maximum state aid," Flitcroft said. "If we weren't losing the state aid, we would be in great shape."

In the Badger High School District, total expenditures rose $70,000 from the 2009-10 budget of $23.13 million. That is an increase of 0.3 percent. Total expenses for the Joint 1 District, which includes Central-Denison, Star Center and Eastview elementary schools and Lake Geneva Middle School, rose 2.68 percent, up to $27.52 million.

At Badger, the district budgeted nearly $10 million for instruction and $6 million for support services.

In the Joint No. 1 District, instruction costs are $13.5 million, up from $12.89 in 2009-10. Support services costs dropped slightly to $6.61 million, down from $6.65 million last year.

The budget numbers won't be finalized until October because not all information such as equalized property value and school enrollments will be available until that time. Flitcroft said the levy rate projections for 2010-11 are based on conservative estimates. He said he based the numbers on some assumptions, including an increase in equalized value in the district of 3 percent and the expected 15 percent loss of state aid.

Flitcroft said there appears to be some movement at the state level on changes to the school funding formula. However, the state legislature has been talking about adjustments for years, which have not happened. He said Lake Geneva is not the only district that continually loses its state aid. Others in the area such as Woods, Reek and Fontana elementary schools also continue to lose state aid money, which must be made up by the local tax base.

Despite the state aid decreases, Flitcroft said the districts were in solid shape regarding debt and fund balances.

The Badger High School district owes $19.7 million in debt, while Joint No. 1 owes $16.5 million.

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