The Lodi School District Annual Meeting approved a $16,747,600 tax levy, with a mill rate of 9.96, down from 11.11, adding up to $3,436 on a $345,000 property.
Before the Oct. 24 meeting’s agenda came to voting on resolutions, School Board Treasurer Barb Beyer gave the Treasurer’s report, followed by and outline of the district’s financial situation from District Business Manager Brent Richter.
In his presentation, Richter gave background definitions and explanations such as the school district’s various funds, same as any other Wisconsin public school district. Richter showed the two educational funds: the general fund (Fund 10) and special education (Fund 27), as the two educational funds. The other funds included: gifts, donations, and fundraising (21), debt service (30), capital projects (40), food service (50), community services (80), and cooperative programs (99). Among those only four are funded through the local tax levy—10, 30, 40, and 80—which would be voted on later in the meeting.
Much of the direction of budget development, Richter explained, is the result of aligning resources with the district’s strategic planning initiative, followed by keeping existing programming, salaries and benefits, along with current factors in revenue and challenges such as labor shortage, wage shortfalls, consumer price index, insurance and arrival or ending of one-time funding.
“What’s interesting with the budget right now, is that the state has give us in the last two years, in the biennium budget, zero dollars in the revenue limit,” said Richter. “So all schools in the state of Wisconsin are working on zero increases in their revenue limit. Also the second area of most revenue in our budget is per-pupil categorical aid and we have not seen an increase in four years in categorical aid.”
The result of this, Richter told attendees, is that districts like theirs and 246 others in the last five years have gone to referendum to support their budget. “Otherwise it would be difficult to maintain a school district under these premises.”
Financial challenges for the school district have mirrored those of businesses and even citizens’ homes around the country, such as staff shortages, salary shortfalls, and increasing costs due to rising prices. A recent source of help for many districts has been federal pandemic recovery aid, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER. The last of these grants, ESSER III, is currently in process with applications submitted in the spring. The last of those funds are required to have been spent by September 2024.
Another key factor in how much funding the district receives is in the number of students enrolled, giving a significant benefit to schools with growing enrollment and a potential downward spiral for those with shrinking enrollment.
Over the past 20 years, Lodi school enrollment has trended downward from north of 1,600 students to just above 1,400. The optimistic part of the chart though, was a line tracking enrollment from 2015-2016 school year to today, showing an even-to-upward trend, even if still well below 1,600.
Lodi has not been alone in having enrollment issues, Richter pointed out with a chart of statewide public school enrollment. At about the 2000-2001 school year, enrollment began trending down from about 875,000 to near 850,000, then dropping to in the area of 825,000 in 2020-2021. Last year showed a rise in enrollment, but with only one year measured since the depths of the COVID pandemic, it can at best be an educated guess whether enrollment is on a rebounding trend, or showing a fluke.
The most significant local factor in this year’s budget was the passage of the Lodi school referendum on April 5. The $5.98 million five-year referendum included $3.85 million in operational funding and $2.13 million in capital project funding.
An immediate result of this referendum was the Lodi School Board approving wage increases across the district, including teachers, administrators, and support staff. On the capital project side, Richter revealed a chart of an expense schedule of the next five years with columns for buildings and grounds, track renovation, and technology. Specifically, Richter highlighted roof replacements for Lodi Elementary and Lodi High School. When asked how long roof replacement should hold up, Richter explained it is building maintenance that comes around roughly on a 20-year schedule.
“The funding formula works in a ways that two parts are state aid and property taxes,” said Richter, showing a pair of charts with average property values in area districts next to a chart showing the distribution of state aid versus property tax in those same communities. Lodi was to the right of the chart receiving about 30%, with Wisconsin Heights and Middleton-Cross Plains further and receiving less than 20% of their school funding through state aid.
“Property wealthy districts in the state of Wisconsin really don’t get to appreciate much state aid,” said Richter, explaining that he has “heard whisperings” about the public school funding formula being revisited at the Capitol. “A couple of years ago I did a study and it will take about 200 kids to get us back to a 50-50 split. That’s what it was when I arrived in 2005.”
Not wanting to leave his presentation on a down note, Richter pointed out the various estimates showing the likelihood of population growth in Lodi, resulting in more students and improved state aid. Specifically he showed photos from new housing developments in the Village of Dane, as well as comparison photos of fields around the new schools which have since been filled with newly built homes.
When new students arrive though, it is not an immediate remedy, as the state bases aid figures on three-year student averages.
Following the presentation, the meeting moved on to resolutions, including unanimous approval on an increase in school board compensation by $200 a year, from $3,000 to $3,200 for board members, and $3,500 to $3,700 for the board president.
Meeting members also agreed to a $16,747,600 levy, with $13,036,328 of general fund levy, $2,180,000 in capital projects levy, $1,029,463 of referendum debt service, $101,809 of non-referendum debt service, and $400,000 community service levy.
The full financial presentation is available on the School District of Lodi website.