Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

More students, more taxes

by Steve Targo

July 19, 2012

GENEVA — The Woods School District is growing. So is its tax rate.

On the phone July 9, Woods Administrator Ed Brzinski said the estimates are preliminary, but it’s possible the rate could jump to $3.38 per $1,000 of assessed value.

That means the owner of property in the district worth $200,000 would pay $676 to the school. The 2011-12 rate was $3.21, which meant on a $200,000 property, the owner paid $642.

However, it’s still too early for the sun to set on this picture.

According to Brzinski, the hearing on the proposed budget will be Aug. 8. Even so, the numbers which help determine the rate — including state aid, valuations and enrollment — aren’t finalized until October.

It’s so early in fact that the total for the proposed 2012-13 school year isn’t set in stone.

But Brzinski said the tax rate will “most likely be between 10 and 15 cents” higher next year.

Why? That could be one for the books.

He predicts enrollment will reach a new record after the 2012-13 year begins Sept. 4.

Brzinski said his guess is there will be 205 students attending Woods next year — a new record. The 2011-12 year ended with 191 students, he said.

“When I started here two years ago, we were at 176,” Brzinski said. “We’ve jumped each year (in size) a little bit.”

But it appears the class sizes haven’t reached critical mass. Yet.

“We’re as big as we want to get right now. … This is about the number of children it was designed for,” Brzinski said.

Most popular little school in town

So how is it a small school is already at more students than similar-sized districts such as Reek and Traver?

Brzinski called it “all-around growth,” not only from within the district, but in the number of children attending Woods via the state’s open enrollment policy.

That means families living out-of-district can apply to have their children attend Woods, or any other school, providing that school accepts the family‘s application.

“Right now, I think about 97 kids are coming here from other school districts,” Brzinski said.

Students do not have reapply each year.

“Once you open enroll, as long as you stay enrolled in that district, you have a spot,” Brzinski said.

Open-enrolled students do not pay a tuition. However, Brzinski said Woods receives about $6,400 for each open-enrolled student from that child’s resident district.

How does a small school like Woods attract so many people?

“Because I think we offer a nice alternative,” Brzinski said. “We have a very traditional approach to education. We have a very high level of parent involvement, and we have a great staff.”

He said Woods also is close enough for families who live in Lake Geneva, Williams Bay, Elkhorn and Delavan. Brzinski also said word of mouth likely has helped, too.

The school also launched a full-day kindergarten program last year.

“We have seen a real jump in open enrollment applications in the 4-K and 5-K levels,” Brzinski said.

However, he added that both those classes are full. The cap for those classes is 20.

But these aren’t the largest classes. Brzinski said 22 seventh-graders are expected to attend Woods next year.

Brzinski said there are waiting lists for open-enrollment applications in some classes already.

Proportionate increases

He also said more students typically means more money in the budget. Both the increase in enrollment and the projected tax rate are at more than 9 percent.

Brzinski said keeping the tax rate down, to be as efficient as possible while supplying high-quality education, is the challenge when working on the school’s budget. He said they began crunching numbers for the forthcoming 2012-13 proposal six months ago.

Brzinski said open enrollment is important to Woods, especially because “we get very little aid from the state.”

He said last year, Woods received nothing.

“I believe we were the only state district to lose all its aid, but it wouldn’t have been much anyway,” Brzinski said.

In the 2010-11 year, he said Woods received about $6,800.

“This year, we’ll bounce back a little bit,” Brzinski said. “I think the state projection is about between $4,000 and $5,000.”