CAMBRIA — Declining enrollment, an operational referendum and falling property values has led to a higher school tax rate for residents in the Cambria-Friesland School District.

Superintendent Timothy Raymond reported a tax rate of $12.27 per $1,000 of equalized value, up from $11.53 last year. Cambria-Friesland is entering the third and final year of its operational referendum, which will allow it to exceed the revenue limit by $600,000 for 2017-18.

The district lost nine students last year and another 10 students this year, Raymond said. It currently has 382 full-time-equivalent students.

Property value in the district — at $211.5 million this year — declined by $1.1 million.

Cambria-Friesland’s budget is balanced at $5.38 million with a total tax levy of $2.59 million.

The district lost $31,000 in state aid, “which we could handle because we lost $134,000 last year,” Raymond said. “So that was good to see; it really was. We didn’t need that hit again this year, and our taxpayers certainly didn’t need that.

“We did get dinged, but there are a lot of school districts in worse situations, so we take what we can get on this.”

The district is expected to put an operational referendum on the April ballot, pending approval by the school board, Raymond said.

All staff members received a 1.36 percent increase in base salaries. Additionally, stipends of $400 for staff members pushed the overall average increase over 2 percent.

“We’re very proud of that,” Raymond said of the compensation for staff. “This is an outstanding, fiscally smart school board.”

Raymond, who also serves as elementary principal, will make $111,496, up from $110,000 last year.

Deb Torrison, in her second year as the 6-12 building principal, will make $89,197, up from $88,000.

Vouchers

Cambria-Friesland has two students using the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.

The private-school vouchers will result in $15,000 in lost state aid for Cambria-Friesland, which, like any school, won’t lose money for its own students since the difference is made up by taxpayers.

“The entire voucher discussion is a contentious issue,” Raymond said, “and understandably so.

“I don’t know if the residents of Wisconsin understand that they’ll be paying for the voucher students, so I think it’s a matter of understanding what that means. Our school board, and myself, we understand we have multiple (private/parochial) institutions that provide quality education, but we’re not in full agreement that the current voucher system is one of equity.”

Among the district’s concerns about the vouchers is that private schools, despite receiving public money, don’t have the same levels of accountability that public schools do. Raymond said that if private schools are going continue to receive public support, it’s an area where greater discussion is needed.

State issues

Cambria-Friesland, like other rural districts in the area, had hoped to receive a modest boost in funding from a rural-school provision for districts with low enrollment. Gov. Scott Walker vetoed the provision in late September, but Raymond is optimistic the overall conversation about supporting rural schools will soon lead to more support.

“It’s not hidden, in any way shape or form,” Raymond said of the need to support rural schools — particularly those with declining enrollment. Cambria-Friesland does not support the push among some lawmakers to consolidate rural districts, he added, and is an advocate for more local control.

Providing incentives to rural districts that choose to consolidate should not be preferable to “allowing rural school districts to flourish,” Raymond said.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter