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Preliminary 2014-15 budget calls for a 3.78 percent tax levy increase for New Berlin School District

July 21, 2014

New Berlin — A preliminary school budget for 2014-15 calling for a 3.78 percent property tax levy increase is on its way to the New Berlin School District annual meeting Aug. 25.

But the levy's impact on the school tax rate would not be 3.78 percent, school officials say. The city is expected to grow and add an estimated 2 percent to its tax base, so the additional thousands of dollars needed for the school levy would be spread over more property, they said.

That growth would moderate the impact of the higher levy on the property tax rate, which they expect to increase 1.75 percent per $1,000 of equalized property. The only caveat is that taxpayers pay on the basis of the assessed value of their homes or businesses and not the equalized value.

Nevertheless, school officials estimate that the owner of a $250,000 home would pay $50 more in school property taxes, under the proposed budget for 2014-15.

The proposed levy is 7.2 percent higher than the school levy five years ago. At the same time, the consumer price index of inflation rose 11.2 percent.

During those five years the district also was losing state aid. School officials expect to get $275,000 less state aid in the 2014-15 school year than flowed into the district five years ago.

But the state helped school districts cope with aid losses by enabling them to get a handle on rising pay and benefits costs via the controversial Acts 10 and 32.

"We were able to continue to provide a full range of programs because of the governor's Act 10," Roger Dickson, chief financial and operations officer, said.

The proposed budget contains 3 percent employee raises, he said. But due to retirements and staffing efficiencies the net budget impact is 2.5 percent, he said.

The district will have only a few layoffs for next year and those were due to enrollment fluctuations and not cost cutting, Superintendent Joe Garza said.

Because of the flexibility Acts 10 and 32 gave, the district also was able to bring health and benefits costs down 47 percent from their previous high, Dickson said.

But the picture may get darker. Enrollments have started what school officials believe could be a three- or four-year slide that will take even more state aid with it. Aid is tied partly to enrollments.

The district will be down an estimated 86 students next year, School Board member Susan Manley said.

"That's the largest I've ever seen in my time on the board," she said.

"It's very significant," Garza said. "We've got ideas how we can address that."

Already the schools have done major cost-cutting including privatizing custodial services. Expected savings of $350,000 to $400,000 annually have come through but there is a quality issue, Dickson said.

"It has turned out from a financial point of view," he said. "But we don't get the same pride of cleaning we used to."

He is working on that, Dickson said, but if the schools want to adjust the custodial service contract, they will have to wait as the district is only in the third year of a five-year contract. The district also has done energy-saving projects.

To help raise money for an ambitious facilities plan, Glen Park Elementary School was closed and soon will be sold along with other excess school property.

The preliminary 2014-15 school budget proposes $2.5 million in spending to finish the projects the board already approved and where work has already started such as finishing the extensive remodeling of the Project Lead the Way engineering classrooms.

The proposed budget also includes more career education, Dickson said. For example, a certified nursing assistant program will be added where WCTC will provide a teacher and a local nursing home a place for students to fulfill lab requirements.

In addition, all curricular areas are being connected with career areas, said Melinda Mueller, director of communications. That will include partnerships with area businesses, she said.

The annual meeting when taxpayers review the proposed budget will be held in a new location. It will be in the Ideas Center (library) at New Berlin West Middle/High School, 18695 W. Cleveland Ave., instead of in the PAC at New Berlin West. The large venue the PAC offers isn't needed to accommodate the size of the crowd that generally attends annual meetings, so it was moved to the library where the School Board meetings are normally held.

AT A GLANCE

Proposed general fund (operating budget) 2014-15: $45,421,205

Previous general fund, 2013-14: $44,157,685

Difference: 2.86 percent increase

Proposed levy, 2014-15: $49,284,332

Previous levy, 2013-14: $47,490,440

Difference: 3.78 percent

NEXT STEP

WHAT: New Berlin School District annual meeting

WHEN: 7 p.m. Aug. 25

WHERE: Idea Center, New Berlin West Middle/High School, 18695 W. Cleveland Ave.

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