Board members could be facing a budget deficit of $2.1 million and some tough choices, according to comments made by Sun Prairie Area School District (SPASD) administrators during the May 26 Sun Prairie School Board meeting.
A budget update presented by SPASD Director of Business & Finance Phil Frei and Assistant Superintendent of Operations Janet Rosseter showed a potential deficit of between $648,609 and $2.1 million with three different budget scenarios brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget deficit scenarios translate to larger school-purpose mill rates. If revenue stays the same and there is less equalized aid, the district faces a $648,609 budget deficit with $600,000 in estimated COVID-19 CARES money. That translates to a $12.93 school-purpose mill rate, or $3,879 in school-purpose property taxes on a $300,000 property.
Bigger deficits translate to a larger mill rate.
If the district’s revenue limit remains flat and equalized aid remains flat, the budget deficit would total $2,134,512 assuming the same CARES money of $600,000. That translates to a $12.67 school-purpose mill rate, or $3,801 in school purpose taxes.
If the district’s revenue limit remains flat and the district gets a $2 million cut in aid, the school-purpose mill rate will be $13.02 per $1,000 in property valuation, or $3,906 in school-purpose property taxes. The deficit will remain at $2,134,512.
The scenario the district will use, according to Frei and Rosseter, depends on the old saw, “it depends.”
Mostly, it depends on what the Wisconsin Legislature decides in terms of budget cuts.
“That is a little scary for Sun Prairie because we’re used to being in a growth mode,” Rosseter said, referring to the possible budget deficits and potential budget cuts.
She added that when final decisions are made regarding aid or revenue cuts to local school districts, district staff will come to the board with recommendations about where to cut.
Frei said he believed aid will be cut because education makes up a large share of state expenditures, and because it is such a large share, the largest cuts will be to the largest expenditures.
But Sun Prairie School Board President Steve Schroeder cautioned the board despite appreciating the work already done by district staff to outline the three potential scenarios.
“There are just too many unknowns right now,” Schroeder told the board, adding that the COVID-19 situation is continuing right now. He agreed with Frei that public education funding will be cut.
“We just need to be prepared for that,” Schroeder said, “and I think this community needs to be prepared for that.”
SPASD Superintendent Brad Saron said he thought there will be tough decisions coming soon.
“This is a good introduction to prepare us to really be focused on our vision and purpose,” Saron said.