Cut Number 1: Loss of State Aid
State provided 'aid' is approximately half the total revenue funding our schools. We know the Governor has proposed reducing state school aids by $843 million and general equalization aid by $749.4 million over the biennium. Annual statewide reductions proposed for schools are -8.4 percent in 2011-12 and -7.7 percent in 2012-13.
We do not know today exactly how we will fare with regard to these state aid reductions. Sun Prairie typically gets a larger share of aid than other districts due to our consistent rapid growth in students compared to others. Last year we actually had a 13% increase in state aid when most other districts experienced a reduction.
Further complicating the projection for next year, the Governor has proposed expanding choice and voucher programs in Milwaukee County in a number of ways. This will take away a greater slice of that smaller "state aid pie" from other public schools than in the past. We know there will be less state aid to help maintain our schools, but don’t know how much less right now -perhaps 4% -5% less than this year; but this is just a guesstimate until the Department of Public Instruction issues their estimate on July 1.
Cut Number 2: Revenue Limits are not just frozen; they are reduced
School districts are up against a state imposed cap on the amount of funds they can receive from both the state and local taxpayers combined. This is the so-called revenue limit. We know the Governor has proposed that schools reduce their revenue limit by 5.5 percent in 2011-12 compared to its 2010-11 revenue limit and remain frozen at the 2011-12 level in 2012-13. This means a reduction of about $560 per student compared to last year. For us, this lowers the state imposed revenue limit by about $3.9 million, and this lower limit prevents us from making up the loss of state aid.
The Sun Prairie Area School District has consistently levied below the state imposed revenue limits for a number of years – one of only about a hundred districts in the state that have done so. Last year we levied $3 million below the revenue limit. When you combine this with the increase in state aid, we were able to continue to offer outstanding Sun Prairie-style education at a lower cost to local taxpayers than the law permitted.
Since we are under the limit, the Governor’s lowering of the limit is somewhat softened in impact – we weren’t spending it, so we wouldn’t have to cut as much. However, we learned from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards yesterday that the budget bill as initially drafted mistakenly does not “credit” previously unused revenue capacity (hence potentially penalizing districts like ours that have been fiscally conservative). This would have an enormous negative impact on our budget and the services we can offer. It has been explained by the Legislative Finance Bureau that this is an error and will be corrected as part of a “correction bill.” However, the correction will require the affirmative action of the state’s Joint Finance Committee. We need to watch carefully for this correction to be made as it would be even more disastrous for Sun Prairie and others.
So these are some of the state level budget concerns for public schools and why school districts are all scrambling to make sense of these cuts while planning for next year. If you don’t want public education in Wisconsin to take this 'double whammy' as it has been proposed, the time to speak out to those in power is now and over the next few weeks.
Now, here are two other “local” factors we know, that will impact our situation next year. These two factors have provided an opportunity to resolve a large portion of the estimated $4 - $5 million in reductions posed by the Governor’s budget (depending, of course, on how the statutory details are ultimately resolved.):
- Our two largest unions voluntarily agreed to significant cuts in benefits for next year and into the future. Their acceptance of paying the employee share of the Wisconsin Retirement System and 9 or 10% of health insurance premiums will reduce our expenses by about $3.3 million. This will greatly help the looming budget cuts being proposed. I am extremely appreciative that all district employees have agreed to take home significantly less pay next year while continuing to do their same, challenging, excellent work. I ask you to please understand this and share your appreciation with them as you see fit.
- 28 teachers submitted letters of retirement last week. These retirements will save the district almost $1 million. While given these state cuts this cost savings is beneficial, these retirements are bittersweet. We will be losing some amazing teachers for whom I have the greatest respect for the service they have provided our community's children. We are losing almost a thousand years of experience among our teaching ranks and there is no dollar amount that can be placed on that -- as the saying goes, “it’s priceless!”
We will be holding a School Board work-study session on Wednesday March 16 at 7:00 p.m. at the District Office to take a first stab at projecting numbers and continuing development of our 2011-2012 budget given these new and evolving political developments. You are welcome to attend. In any case, please stay in touch with what is happening. We have some 'knowns' and 'unknowns' to deal with, but we really need the input of many as we navigate these tricky times that feel very much as if public schools are under attack.
Please let any school employee with whom you have contact know that you understand the tremendous additional stress they have been under as ‘targets’ of drastic legislative changes in their status as public employees. Whatever you believe philosophically about these changes, I believe we should always show our support for those who serve our children. It’s a challenging job anyway, and this strain has been very, very difficult, yet they have kept on serving.
As always, I’m daily inspirED by the efforts of our staff, the accomplishments of our students, and the support of our community during these trying times. I hope you seek out and find such inspirations to keep moving forward as well.