Current Madison School District budget math equals big property tax hike

2013-04-22T06:15:00Z Current Madison School District budget math equals big property tax hikeMATTHEW DeFOUR | Wisconsin State Journal | mdefour@madison.com | 608-252-6144 madison.com

Madison School District property taxes for 2013 could increase 7.4 percent under budget recommendations being presented Monday to the Madison School Board.

That would be the biggest percent increase in the district’s property tax levy in a decade. Taxes on an average Madison home valued at $230,831 would total $2,855, a $182 increase from last year.

However, district officials cautioned the numbers likely will change once the state budget is finalized and new superintendent Jennifer Cheatham conducts a review of the district.

“Before I can feel comfortable recommending a tax increase I would want to make sure that every dollar is spent effectively and I can feel confident that the funds that we’re investing are going to pay off for students,” Cheatham said.

Total spending for the 2013-14 school year would be $392.8 million, virtually the same as this school year. That’s because the district spent money on several one-time expenses this year such as new reading curriculum materials. Those expenses won’t be incurred again in next year’s budget, but salaries, health insurance and other proposed costs are projected to increase.

The recommendations from the district’s administration include a 1.5 percent across-the-board increase in employee salaries; a 2 percent increase in school and department budgets; and the continuation and expansion of many, but not all, of the district’s programs for raising minority and low-income student achievement. It also calls for several new administrative positions.

Changes in elementary schools include the elimination of multi-age classrooms in the K-3 grades to facilitate the new Common Core curriculum. To help pay for that added cost, officials recommended cutting the “Ready, Set, Goal” parent-teacher conferences.

The budget recommendations do not include any layoffs. Employees would continue to pay nothing toward health insurance premiums.

They also do not include about $14.1 million in projects officials say need attention, including $8 million in additional maintenance, $1.2 million for a new telephone system and $3.5 million for technology upgrades.

The recommendations were prepared by the district’s administrative team, including interim superintendent Jane Belmore.

Cheatham was involved in the discussions and will make her own recommendations on

July 15. By that time, the district will likely have updated information about the effect of the state budget.

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget would result in an $8.7 million reduction in aid to the district, officials said.

The Legislature may yet make changes that could alter state aid to the district. The state budget is usually completed in June.

School Board member Ed Hughes said a lower property tax increase is usually better, but the board’s first obligation will be to ensure “students are getting what they need to make the progress that they need to make.”

“It’s reasonable to expect that the property tax levy is going to go up,” Hughes said. “Our teachers haven’t had a raise for the last three years. We’ve got to do what we can to provide an increase in teacher salaries.”

The timing of this year’s school district budget process has been altered to account for the state budget process and the new superintendent.

Typically, the superintendent would have made recommendations by now and the board would vote on them in May or June. A final vote on the budget and tax levy would follow in October.

This year, the School Board is scheduled to approve the preliminary budget in late August. A final vote in October is still scheduled as usual.

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