Waunakee school board members approved a third draft of the district’s 2021-22 budget Monday night, as administrators presented their plan for funding approximately $74 million in expenditures without an increase to the revenue limit.

WCSD Executive Director of Operations Steve Summers noted at a July 19 board of education meeting that the third draft was typically considered during the second week in July. However, the state budget signed by Gov. Tony Evers earlier this month contained provisions that were far less than the district had planned for throughout the course of its budget-planning process.

Administration asked board members at that time for an extra week to incorporate the new state-aid estimates, many of which had to be updated from the planning parameters that the district had set in the spring.

“We appreciate the fact that you gave us that additional time and were willing to schedule an additional meeting this evening,” Summers told board members at their July 19 meeting. “We were able to include all of the information that we came to understand from the governor’s office regarding the state-budget process that he signed.”

Summers said consideration of the third draft traditionally begins with a budget hearing during which time residents can share feedback or ask questions about the district’s proposed budget, and turned the meeting over to school-board president Joan Ensign to call the hearing to order.

No comments were made on the budget, and Summers proceeded with presenting the third draft for approval.

Summers noted that several pieces of information remain unknown to the district, such as fall student counts and the amount of federal stimulus funding it will receive in upcoming months.

Summers highlighted the changes that had been made to the most recent draft of the budget, including an update to the amount of state equalization aid that the district is estimated to receive. According to state-aid estimates released by the Department of Public Instruction on July 1, WCSD should receive approximately $22.5 million in equalization aid for 2021-2022.

That’s approximately $2 million more than the district received in the 2020-21 school year. Summers said use of those funds would be limited, however, since the district’s revenue limit had not been increased.

“When the revenue-limit increase is zero,” Summers said, “any increase in state equalization aid is either used for debt defeasance in some school districts – which is paying down your debt early – or a reduction in your property-tax levy. Those are fundamentally the two options that a school board would be able to look at.”

Summers noted that board members had previously set a goal of tax consistency so residents know what to expect from their tax bill. Unless the board changes that goal, the additional $2 million would go toward debt defeasance by paying off loans ahead of schedule.

Summers also noted that the 2021-22 budget relied on referendum funds approved in November. The referendum allowed the district to exceed the revenue limit by $2.1 million for five years.

“Be aware of the fact that this budget is built on utilizing the $2.1 million,” Summers said, noting that because of the state budget, WCSD would see a revenue increase of approximately $50,000. “And no district can only increase expenditures by $50,000. So what you’re going to see is many districts – probably most districts in Wisconsin – using some degree of short-term funding.”

Summers explained that by using the referendum funds for recurring expenses, another operational referendum would need to be considered in coming years to maintain programs and current levels of staffing. A November 2022 referendum was likely, Summers said, whether or not the district sought approval for capital improvements at that time.

The de facto freeze on revenue-limit authority has placed many districts in a similar situation, which is why Summers believes voters could see a record number of operational referendums next fall.

Waunakee’s revenue-cap limit has been estimated to increase by just $63,148.

Net expenditures have risen by more than $1.3 million. In total, $73.7 million in spending has been included in the 2021-22 budget. Salary and benefits would account for more than half of the district’s expenditures, at approximately $38 million. Staffing has increased by 16.765 FTE.

To meet those expenses, the 2021-22 tax levy has been projected at approximately $35.69 million. It would equate to a 3 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

The tax base is expected to increase be 3 percent as well, to approximately $3.277 billion.

As a result, the 2021-22 tax rate would remain at $10.89. The school tax on a $360,000 home without a change in assessment would be $3,920.

A full copy of the third draft can be found on the district’s BoardBook, at https://meetings.boardbook.org/Public/Agenda/1924?meeting=487289. Summers said anyone with questions about the budget can reach him at stevesummers@waunakee.k12.wi.us.

The final draft of the budget should be presented in October, after the Third Friday in September Student Count.

Other business

Also at Monday night’s meeting, the school board approved:

-a request from the district’s director of special education, Tiffany Loken, for a 0.5 FTE increase in the occupational-therapist position serving grades 6-8.

-supplemental pay for teachers, including a $1200 point increase (resulting in an overall salary increase of 3.69 percent).

-a request from facilities director John Cramer to purchase a new lawn mower for $34,399.

-a survey that administrators plan to send out this week, regarding K-6 parent preferences for the placement of their children in masked or unmasked classrooms. The district has asked that families respond with their preferences no later than Monday, July 26.

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