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Baraboo School Board member Nancy Thome looks toward Treasurer Sean McNevin, obscured, as he comments on the budget during a meeting June 24 at the district office.

As is typical for this time of year, there remain many moving pieces in the Baraboo School District’s budget for next year, but the biggest factor has been settled.

Gov. Tony Evers signed the state budget into law Wednesday with 78 line-item vetoes, including ones that increased the Republican-approved K-12 spending by $65 million over two years.

A week and a half earlier, the Baraboo School Board approved the preliminary 2019-20 district budget as presented by business director Yvette Updike.

To build the preliminary budget, Updike used state numbers that were approved by the JFC earlier this year. She approached it with a “conservative lens,” District Administrator Lori Mueller said. “We can only get good news moving forward.”

Updike predicted per-pupil categorical aid for next year would increase to $679 per student, $25 higher than this year for a total increase of $75,000 for the district. She reminded the school board this aid comes directly to the district and doesn’t affect the tax levy, unlike the projected increase to the revenue limit authority.

Evers upped those payments to $742 per pupil each year of the biennium.

Under her conservative estimates, Updike projected district revenues to increase by 2.2%, going from more than $40.7 million in the 2018-19 budget to more than $41.6 in 2019-20. Total projected expenditures are expected to increase 2.8% to almost $41.9 million, leaving a deficit of $255,000. The shortfall would bring the district’s general fund just below $4 million.

“I’m very confident where we’re at,” Updike told the school board June 24. “I feel very good with what is probably going to happen in October unless everything at the state level really goes to heck.”

But school board Treasurer Sean McNevin noted the “abnormal marketplace condition” that allowed this year’s budget to come out well.

“If it wasn’t for our health insurance negotiation process, we would be sitting here $1 million in the hole, trying to figure out not only how we’re not going to be adding any staff in those crucial areas, but then we’re going to be cutting staff or making program changes to meet the needs,” McNevin said.

Instead, Updike reported the district added eight positions at a cost of about $500,000 and cut two positions at the high school.

She said the state next year likely would reimburse districts for 26% of this year’s actual special education costs, which is barely above the 25.3% they got this year. In his original proposal, Evers raised reimbursement to 30% the first year and 60% the second year.

With operating transfers — money taken from other district funds to cover special education costs — approaching $3.9 million last year and more than $4 million projected next year, according to Updike, “$50,000 isn’t going to help a lot,” Mueller said.

Doug Mering, school board vice president, viewed the state Legislature’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee’s education funding as inadequate.

“Even with them saying ‘We’re going to give you additional money,’ it’s still not enough,” Mering said. “What they’ve given us here is basically maybe we’re keeping up with inflation, but that’s probably about all we’ve gotten from Joint Finance Committee at this point.”

Mering testified in front of the state Joint Finance Committee in April, urging lawmakers to require private voucher school funding be listed as a separate line item on property tax bills. He also sent a letter June 24 that laid out his concerns with the JFC’s budget to local state representatives.

Though the state budget is settled, other factors that impact the district’s finances are still unknown, including property values and enrollment, which is counted annually in September. Updike said she expected student membership to rise slightly from 2,960 in 2018-19 to 2,966 next year.

The total local levy for school-related taxes in the Baraboo School District will be $16.6 million next year, up by about 6% from this year’s $15.7 million, according to the preliminary budget.

The annual meeting where school board members adopt the final budget will be in October.

In other action June 24, the Baraboo School Board:

  • Approved hiring Jodi Tessen, East Elementary School special education teacher; Thomas Schmidt, Baraboo High School behavior coach; Margaret Zimmerman, East Elementary fifth-grade teacher; Tara Hayes, school nurse; and Stacey Endicott, BHS counselor.
  • Accepted the resignation of Jamie Carney, East Elementary behavior interventionist.
  • Approved revisions to board policies on district wellness, professional staff recruitment and hiring and student transportation services.
  • Authorized the reissuance of a 2013 general obligation promissory note. Updike said the note was used for a wall repair at Jack Young Middle School and related projects. With interest rates more competitive now than they were then, she said the move will save the district about $19,000 in interest costs.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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