Local school districts are readying for a possible financial crunch this year after Gov. Scott Walker released his proposed budget last week.
The governor’s 2015-17 spending plan holds general school aid and revenue limits virtually flat over two years. But it also eliminates for next year an additional $150 per-pupil aid that is outside the revenue limits and which many school districts had been expecting. That funding is restored at a higher level in 2016-17.
Gus Knitt, district administrator for the Pardeeville School District, said that the loss of $150 per student is costly.
“(It’s) $155,000 is what we’d lose in the state budget as proposed,” he said.
For Portage, the deficit is projected at $360,000, said Charles Poches, district administrator for the Portage Community School District.
“Every school district across the state received that in the last budget that’s now being taken away at least in the first year,” he said.
For the Lodi School District, it would result in a deficit of about $250,000, said Charles Pursell, district administrator for Lodi.
“We’re not looking at laying off staff. If we have to scrape together that $250,000 then we will … sadly I think it’s the kids who get left on the back shelf. There’s not a lobby group taking their needs and concerns into consideration,” Pursell said.
Walker released his K-12 education proposals on Feb.3, which include lifting the 1,000-student cap on the statewide private school voucher program that would fold in Racine’s voucher program and shifting its funding source from the state’s general fund to aid set aside for schools.
Walker said the voucher expansion would provide opportunities to more families who otherwise would not be able to send their children to a better school. Poches said the voucher program is open to a family of four with an annual income of about $44,000 or lower.
The voucher expansion proposal is funded by reducing public schools’ state aid, which in turn, lands on the local taxpayer to keep the public schools afloat.
“I don’t want to cry wolf yet because it does have to go through a budgetary process (in May), but therein lies the process that is so convoluted,” Pursell said. “There’s only so much money to go around. I’m totally confused by the logic.”
It’s not known what effect that might have on public schools or on funding for voucher schools given the varying levels of state aid school districts receive now in part based on their communities’ wealth.
A public school district would see a loss of aid from the state for each student who attends a private voucher school even if that student never attended a public district school, under the proposal.
“For every dollar that would go out in voucher program I would have to cut that exact amount out of the Pardeeville budget, which would impact students, plus increase property taxes dollar for dollar,” Knitt said. “So we’d be cutting back on what we offer our own students and property tax payers would be paying for services at voucher schools. We will be forced to cut services to our local students to provide choice opportunities for other students in private schools.”
For Portage, the voucher program now costs the school district about $210,000, Poches said, and the possible financial impact will remain but the amount is unknown.
“If the state limits are removed it is difficult, if not impossible (to guess) because we have no idea what the interest is,” Poches said.
Administrators say that the public should contact local representatives to inquire about how the proposed budget might affect their hometown.
— Molly Beck of the Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this story.