Madison School Board

The Madison School Board adopted a $393 million operating budget Monday for the 2017-2018 school year that would increase total property taxes by 3.52 percent. Above, members meet at the Doyle Administration Building in May.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

The Madison School Board adopted a $393 million operating budget for the 2017-18 school year Monday.

Board members voted unanimously on a budget that will increase the tax bill on the median value Madison home of $263,000 by $24.48. The budget relies on a $297 million tax levy, an increase of 3.52 percent compared to the last school year’s levy amount.

Board members added $1.6 million to the budget Monday evening: $1 million for special-education staffing and $600,000 for building maintenance.

“I’ve heard enough to support the need for an increase in special-ed services,” said board member Dean Loumos.

While the number of special-education teachers in the district increased from 2015-16 to the current school year, special-education assistants (SEAs) dropped during the time frame by about 49 full-time-equivalent positions to around 292 positions.

Several parents and teachers Monday spoke strongly in favor of increasing the number of SEAs, who help teachers and students in special-ed classrooms. About 20 more SEAs could be hired if the $1 million is used solely for filling those positions.

“Nothing would make us happier to have more room to make sure that we’re doing right by every child,” said Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham.

The board also requested the school district report back to share how it uses the additional special-education funding.

Board member Nicki Vander Meulen said she had heard from parents, teachers and SEAs about the staffing levels.

“We got a problem with SEAs. We don’t have enough of them, and our students are suffering because of that,” she said.

As part of its motion, the Madison School Board also added $600,000 for the district’s capital maintenance fund, which will bring the fund’s total to $5 million, said Mike Barry, an assistant superintendent.

Overall, the budget keeps staffing levels near level while providing overall raises to district employees.

Since the Madison School Board approved a preliminary budget in June, the district has found out it will receive more state aid than anticipated, giving the board flexibility with the tax levy.

“We’re in a better position than we were in June, and that’s good news,” Cheatham said.

Because of the additional taxing authority, the board considered three operating budgets Monday.

One option would have held spending levels similar from what was passed in June. It would have increased the tax bill on a median value home by $8.36 and increased the levy by 2.96 percent.

The other option would have added $1 million to a reserve fund with the intent of some of it being used for SEAs. That plan would have added $18.43 to the tax bill of the $263,000 house and increased the levy by 3.31 percent.

The additional $1.6 million that board members added to the budget was the third option district administrators had proposed.

All three options would have held the district under a 3.97 percent levy increase, which it promised to be the limit as part of a referendum passed last November by voters that allows the district a $26 million bump in taxing authority over four years.

The district’s better-than-expected budget situation was also helped by an increase in the tax base of 6.2 percent compared to last year. The value of the district’s base now stands at about $25.6 billion.

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.