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Williams Bay schools seek means to balance budget

Two informational meetings on the referendum remain. The next will be 7 p.m. Tuesday Aug. 31 and the last will be noon Sunday Sept. 12. The meetings are in the auditorium of the Williams Bay Junior/Senior High School., 500 W. Geneva St.
August 25, 2010 | 08:51 AM
Williams Bay — School officials, like everyone else, need to live within their means.

But what does that mean?

Parents and taxpayers in the Williams Bay School District face the painful dilemma. Either they approve a rise in the district's spending cap, which would increase the district's means, but also increase property taxes.

Or, electors could reject the increase and require deep cuts in school staffing and programs to reduce its expenditures to meet existing means. But that very likely would result in increased classroom sizes and a loss of academic performance.

The district's projections are grim. Without an increase in the income cap, the district would have to cut $600,000 the first year, and as much as $1 million by the 2014-15 school year.

Meetings scheduled

The Williams Bay School District's citizen referendum committee has scheduled public meetings to explain why the district needs to increase its spending cap, and to gather comments and opinions from residents and electors.

The first meeting was Aug. 17. With about 40 people in attendance, Superintendent Fred Vorlop presented the district's case for the increased spending cap and answered questions.

Among the questions:

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n What impact did the new athletic fields and field house have on the district's budget and will it impact the proposed cap increase?

Williams Bay paid $1.24 million in 2006 for the new football and softball fields and the athletic buildings, Vorlop said. Of that, $352,106 came from the district's general fund reserves. That's the same general fund that supports the educational services of the schools.

Vorlop conceded that without the new construction, the district would have an additional $352,000 in its reserve. However, he argued, that would not have changed the current deficit or impacted the projections of the future operating deficits.

Even if the athletic fields and building had not been built, the $352,000 would have bought the district only an extra two weeks, he said.

Vorlop said no money from the referendum would go to cover the cost of either the sports fields or the athletic building.

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n With a reserve of $1.17 million and with the stimulus for education recently approved by Congress, what's the hurry in increasing the district's spending cap?

The district's reserve fund took a $333,000 hit at the end of this school year, according to pre-audit figures, Vorlop said. The next year will see the fund reduced by another $586,000 by the end of next year, he said.

If the district waits a year or two to increase the spending cap, it would lose a year or two of replenishing the general fund.

Teachers cut

Without the added revenue, the district would have to cut $600,000 from next year's budget. Because 75 percent of the district's costs are in personnel, most of those cuts would be teachers, Vorlop said. Without the increase, it's possible that 25 percent of the district's 50 teachers would have to be released by the 2014-15 school year.

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"We need our teachers," said Vorlop. "Unfortunately we may need to raise our taxes to keep our teachers."

Those cuts might also hurt the district's academic standards, possibly encouraging more Williams Bay students to transfer out while discouraging students outside from transferring in. Because district income is based on enrollment, that could cause further revenue losses, Vorlop said.

Vorlop was also less than optimistic about the stimulus.

Most likely, Williams Bay will get nothing, he said. The federal funds will probably be used to shore up the holes in the current school aid formula, which has long been unfriendly to Williams Bay.

Williams Bay relies heavily on property taxes, with 92 percent of its funding coming from its property taxpayers. Less than 1 percent comes from state aids.

The referendum will be Sept. 14.

Effects of increase

Voters will be asked to raise the cap by $498,000 for 2010-11, $498,000 for 2011-12 and by $890,000 for 2012-13 and thereafter.

Based on a property with an equalized valuation of $100,000 (which would owe $645 in school taxes), the proposed revenue cap increases would raise school taxes on that property by $65.30 the first year, and the second year.

In the third year, it would increase school taxes on that property by $98.30. The proposed cap adjustments would raise district revenues by a total of $1,886,000 over three years.

The district's reserve was created in 2003, when school district voters approved raising the district's revenue cap by $398,000.

The plan in 2003 was to build a reserve that would last until 2007 and then determine what to do next.

However, an unanticipated increase in enrollments allowed the district to conserve its reserves three years longer than expected.

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