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Bay schools reduce levy, balance budget

July 27, 2011 | 08:01 AM
Williams Bay — The School District found its balance this year.

The School Board presented a proposed budget for 2011-12 at the district's annual meeting on July 25 that shows $6.6 million incoming, and an equal $6.6 million outgoing.

As the budget review page stated: "The budget as printed ... is a balanced budget."

With an unusually high number of 42 voting members attending, the levy was approved on a 40-2 vote at the district's annual meeting Monday night at the junior/senior high school. Voting was done by secret ballot.

The margin of approval for this levy resolution was more sure and solid than the 18-15 vote that approved the levy at the 2010 annual meeting. The 33 voting members at that meeting was also considered an unusually large turnout.

Perhaps part of the reason for the overwhelming favorable vote is because expenses, taxes and the school tax rate are going down this year.

A combination of new directives from Madison and cuts by the School Board squeezed down district expenses and reduced its tax bite for 2011-12.

The district itself cut about $600,000 after voters rejected an increase in the school district's spending cap.

And then Gov. Scott Walker and the new Republican majority in the state Legislature rewrote state laws to limit teachers' bargaining rights and to require them to pay 5.8 percent of their pay to retirement benefits and 12.6 percent of annual insurance premiums.

Superintendent Fred Vorlop, who is retiring as of Sept. 1, said that the requirements that teachers now pick up a part of the payments for retirement and benefits contributed to the savings the district now sees.

The total 2011-12 property tax levy for the general fund and bonded debt is $6.9 million, down from $7.2 million in 2010-11, a cut of 4.95 percent.

And even though the equalized assessed valuation for this year's tax levy is estimated to drop by $660,000 compared to last year, the 2011-12 tax rate dropped to about $6.20 per $1,000 of equalized assessed valuation, a 4.9 percent decrease compared to last year's tax rate of $6.52 per $1,000.

For the owner of a house assessed at $250,000 in the past two years, it means taxes for school purposes should drop from $1,630 to $1,550.

After the meeting, School Board president Kim Travis said she doesn't believe the district will have to cut any more teachers in the coming year.

She said the state Legislature has left school boards the tools to maintain balanced budgets.

Williams Bay schools continue to maintain a positive balance of open enrollment students who come in and open enrollment students who leave.

This year, about 70 students are expected to come in, while 58 are expected to leave.

The district will receive about $482,000 in tuition for those coming into Williams Bay schools, but will have to pay out about $408,000 for those leaving, for a net gain of about $74,000.

Meanwhile, the district is looking at reducing and eventually eliminating a payment made to teachers who take their insurance through a source other than the school district (usually a spouse's place of employment.)

In 2010-11, 23 teachers collected about $9,600 each, the difference in annual cost between family and single coverage, Vorlop said.

In 2011-12, it's expected that 17 teachers will receive about $7,700 each for not taking the district's insurance.

Nonetheless, Vorlop said, that while the School Board eventually wants to eliminate the policy, even after paying the bounty to the teachers, the district finds that it saves money on insurance.

Next year, the school district expects to save about $120,000 in insurance costs because of the teachers who do not take the district's insurance, he said.

And not all expenses have gone down.

The district's unemployment compensation costs more than doubled from about $16,400 to $37,700 because the district cut four full time elementary school teachers this past year.

Teaching is a very labor intensive activity, Vorlop told the assembled district residents. Even with the cuts in staff, personnel costs make up 71 percent of the 2011-12 school budget. Although that is down slightly from 75 percent a year ago.

And in Williams Bay, because state aids are based on a district's property values and enrollment, income from the state is very low. This year, the district is expecting about $50,900 in state money, for a general fund budget totaling $6.6 million.

"Unlike many schools in the state of Wisconsin, this School District is very dependent on local taxes to pay for education programs for its students," Vorlop said.

This year, the district property taxes (about $5.9 million) will account for 90 percent of the general fund revenues, with state sources providing 8 percent, federal sources 1 percent and fees and other local sources another 1 percent.

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