The coronavirus pandemic is making it even harder for DeForest Area School District officials to budget for the 2020-21 school year.
They are taking into account how fluid the situation is regarding state financing for education.
“Despite the uncertainties that COVID-19 may have on our state budget and resources available for school funding, DeForest is still financially sound,” said Kathy Davis-Phillips, the district’s director of business and auxiliary services. “We have approached the budget cautiously and we will continue to monitor the ever-changing situation.”
A budget draft for the 2020-21 school year was presented to the school board at its June 22 meeting, and it included a tax levy estimate of $36,061,797 — which is $3,152,935 higher than it was for 2019-20.
The board is expected to decide whether to approve the budget draft at its next meeting on July 13, with a date of July 27 set for the annual meeting and budget hearing. The school board has the final say on the budget in October.
Numbers could change between now and then. Nobody is certain how much different they’ll look when those dates come around.
“It’s hard to say how much will change, but it is typical that changes occur from this point in the year until the board finalizes the budget in October,” said Davis-Phillips. “There are many factors that have to be finalized yet, such as equalization aid, property values, tax levy and the revenue limit.”
Student count, which comes on the third Friday in September, is another, along with negotiations with staff and final staff hirings and changes.
School financing is always complex, but COVID-19 has only added to the uncertainty, as the district works to figure out how to reopen in the fall.
“This certainly has been one of the more challenging budget development times,” said Davis-Phillips. “There are so many unknowns out there in regards to the impact COVID-19 has had on the state budget and ability to provide funding for schools. We also have many unknowns on what the fall will look like.”
In the budget draft report, it is anticipated that the equalized value of the district will go up by 3 percent. The mill rate estimate is $12.39 per $1,000 of equalized value of a home, which would result in a $0.74 increase per $1,000 of equalized value for a home.
The report also laid out the impact of the 2019 referendums. The operating portion of the referendum, which was approved by voters, is expected to add $0.86 per $1,000 of equalized value, while new debt from the building referendum is adding $0.33 per $1,000 of equalized value. It was noted that these figures are expected to rise slightly in 2021-22 with the final bonds.
Also, the general fund is anticipated to increase by $1,569,694, with the special education fund also going up by $486,243.
The primary reasons for the changes are a growing student population, which is expected to add $255,000, and an anticipated increase in the revenue limit per pupil to $179.
Superintendent Eric Runez told the school board at its last meeting, “In general, it’s good to have more students.”
It is also expected that the district will see compensation and benefit increases for staff. The budget draft put the total amount at $785,000. There are going to be staffing changes related to growth, including the addition of three full-time equivalent staff in keeping with the 2019 referendum.
The district is also looking at approximately $5.7 million worth of projects planned for 2020-21, including $3 million in projects related to the 2019 referendum.
District staff is also planning to beef up support in a number of targeted areas, including: academic performance; instructions programs; personnel administration; treatment of community stakeholders; collaboration and responsible citizens; and the development of self-directed complex thinkers.
District officials caution that all of these numbers are only estimates and will change as the process proceeds.