A significant rise in local property values has pushed the school tax rate for property owners living in the Portage Community School District down 16 cents from last year.
District Administrator Charles Poches and Business Manager Margaret Rudolph reported a tax rate of $9.24 per $1,000 of equalized value in the 2017-18 budget, which was finalized by the school board Monday.
The tax rate amounts to $924 for a $100,000 home.
Property values in the district increased 5.3 percent.
“That’s a very nice trend,” Rudolph said. “We haven’t had that kind of increase for years, and that’s great for our community.”
Enrollment in the district fell by 106 students, a decline that “will impact us greatly next year,” Rudolph said about state aid for next year’s budget. Declining enrollment in Portage all but guarantees next year’s tax rate will be higher than this year’s, she said.
Categorical aid from the state went up $200 per pupil, which also helped drop the school’s portion of local taxes 1.7 percent from last year’s rate of $9.40. Categorical aid is money from the state that is issued to school districts for specific spending categories, such as transportation and special education.
This year’s per-pupil spending rate is $9,346, Poches said. That’s up $26 from last year.
Portage voters in April 2016 passed a five-year referendum that allows the district to exceed the state-mandated revenue limit by up to $2.6 million each year. This year, the district will use $2.4 million instead of the full $2.6 million.
Portage has 24 students using the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program this year, most of them choosing to attend St. John’s Lutheran School in Portage. Poches estimated the Choice Program will cost the district about $181,000 in lost state aid, a loss that’s made up using referendum dollars.
This year’s private-school voucher cap rises from 1 percent to 2 percent, so Portage could have had as many as 48 students using proceeds from the state program. The district originally projected that 30 students would use it.
“We’re still digesting all aspects of the new state budget,” Poches said when asked if he expects private vouchers to take a bigger bite out of state aid in future years. Eligibility issues related to the Choice Program are “still confusing” public school leaders across the state, he said.
Pay increases for all staff, including administrators, averaged 2 percent.