PARDEEVILLE — Rigmarole in the state Legislature forced Pardeeville Community School District to dip into its reserves when setting its 2017-18 budget, Superintendent Gus Knitt said.

Knitt reported a school tax rate of $10.90 per $1,000 of equalized value, up from $9.61 last year. That jump was expected, as voters in April approved a two-year, $11.9 million construction referendum.

Unexpected, however, was the on-again, off-again treatment of a state budget provision that had been designed to help rural school districts, the superintendent said. In the summer, Pardeeville officials expressed confidence they’d gain money from the provision when it received support from Republican legislative leaders, but Gov. Scott Walker vetoed it in late September.

Had the provision held up, it would have increased Pardeeville’s ability to spend by about $100,000, Knitt estimated. Since Walker’s decision came so late in the district’s budgeting process, Pardeeville ultimately decided to draw from its fund balance reserves rather than make late cuts to its budget, a move that will hamper spending in the district in the future.

“Quite honestly, I tend to budget conservatively, anyway,” Knitt said, “and the talk was so positive when (the provision) passed the whole Legislature. Then the governor vetoes it. We try to do the best we can (to set our budget), and then Madison pulls the rug on us, two months after our budget was supposed to start.

“If they ever get their act together, it’d make life a lot easier for school districts.”

Under the vetoed provision, low-spending districts reportedly would have been able to spend an extra $200 per pupil this year and another $100 the next. The revenue increase would have been funded by a combination of state aid and property taxes, the latter providing the reason Walker stated he could not support it.

In the summer, Pardeeville also had reason to believe it would gain relief from a sparsity aid program that was fully funded in Walker’s initial budget but was “dropped along the way” by legislators, Knitt said. That program was also designed to help boost funding for school districts with low enrollment. Sparsity aid — like the rural school provision — would have increased the district’s ability to spend by about $100,000 in Pardeeville, Knitt estimated.

“It sounded like we’d get one or the other — everything was strong — then all of a sudden there’s nothing in there,” Knitt said. “We’ll get through this, but it would have been nice if (legislators) could have gotten their act together sooner.”

Pardeeville’s budget this year is set at $10.69 million, with a total tax levy of $5.7 million. Per-pupil spending in Pardeeville’s general fund is estimated to be $12,477.

Odds and ends

Pardeeville’s construction referendum resulted in the school tax rate climbing by $1.07 per $1,000, which is 12 cents lower than originally forecasted. This year’s tax rate rose by more than $1.07 due to lost state aid, Knitt said. State aid was $4.15 million — $352,000 less than last year.

For its construction, Pardeeville borrowed $8 million for this school year, and will borrow the remaining $3.9 million next year. The biggest piece of that construction is a 500-seat performing arts auditorium. Construction is still expected to begin in April, depending on the weather, Knitt said.

Property values in Pardeeville went up 2.19 percent.

Total enrollment climbed by seven students this year to 857. That is expected to help Pardeeville in spending next year. “That’s was a very good sign,” Knitt said. “That pleased us the most, out of everything that occurred this year.”

Pardeeville is entering the final year of its four-year, $3.5 million operational referendum, from which the district will exceed the revenue limit by $855,000. The district will try for a new operational referendum in April.

Teacher salaries went up by 1.26 percent, support staff salaries went up 1.5 percent and administrator salaries went up either 1.5 or 1.75 percent, Knitt reported.

Parental Choice Program

This year Pardeeville has two students using the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, which provides voucher money to students attending private schools. Knitt is assuming those students are attending St. John’s Lutheran School in Portage, due to its proximity, though the state does not report where these students go.

“Quite honestly, it still bothers me,” Knitt said of the voucher program. Pardeeville will lose about $15,000 in state aid due to the two vouchers, an amount that will not decrease school spending in Pardeeville since lost aid is made up by the taxpayers. Knitt estimated the voucher students would cost Pardeeville taxpayers $3 for a $100,000 home. “So it’s not huge, but we’re still supporting a school that’s not in our district.

“It doesn’t take money from (our schools), but it increases property taxes.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter