Despite Criticism, Racine School Board Passes Interim Budget
More than 100 people spent their Monday night questioning why their taxes were going to increase again, but district officials said it's not their spending that has increased — it's the state funding that has decreased.
Armed with questions and criticism over an interim annual budget that would raise their taxes, more than 100 people attended the Racine Unified School District Board meeting on Monday.
Staff and board members answered those questions, then unanimously adopted the interim budget at their meeting on Monday. The school portion of a property tax bills will rise almost 6.5 percent with that budget.
Wayne Clingman, of Racine, said the district needed to make difficult choices, not raise taxes.
“You may not know it, but things have changed,” Clingman said. “The money is not coming and you have to make some very hard choices … and when taxes go up, people leave the state and the money that you have won’t be coming in anymore.”
As written, the interim budget calls for the estimated property tax rate to increase by $.57 per $1,000 equalized value of their property, or 6.42 percent, to $9.51 per $1,000 equalized value. This means if your home is worth $250,000, you would pay $2,377.50 on the school portion of your tax bill.
The proposed tax levy — the total amount of money collected through property taxes — is $85,134,000, an increase of $3,563,000 or 4.37 percent over last year.
David Hazen, the chief financial officer for the school district, pointed out that the school district is not spending more money since the general fund spending increased to $186 million, an increase of about $1 million or a half-percent. The general fund makes up almost 90 percent of the total budget.
“It’s important to note that we’re not spending more money in our budget, we’re seeing a shift in who is paying for it,” Hazen said.
School Board member Kim Plache explained that with equalized aid, the state used to send more money to the districts that were property poor and less to those who were property wealthy.
“That way the property poor didn’t have to spend as much on schools as the property wealthy,” Plache said. “But all of us here are part of a property poor district and as state funding pulls back it’s falling on a lot of people who don’t have a lot of property wealth.”
The increase in the property tax levy is attributed to a loss in state funding, declining enrollment/revenue adjustments and loss in revenue from school choice vouchers, according to the budget document.
Other items that factored into the increase were:
- A 10 percent increase in health coverage costs.
- $33.8 million for facility improvements with the Trane and Johnson Controls performance contracts, an amount the district will borrow and then pay back with the energy savings.
The budget also points out the growing number of poor students, especially at the secondary school level.
“Statistics show that the more poverty you have in a school district, you have parents that work many jobs, and when students come to school they are not as prepared,” Hazen said.
Roger Pfost, who ran for the School Board earlier this year, said the board was doing a disservice to the taxpayers and the students.
“Under the voucher system, enrollment was brought down but you didn’t close the schools when you had the opportunity to. You keep kicking the can down the road,” Pfost said.
However, Hazen explained that not all students leaving the school district are within the same grade levels so the staffing levels don’t automatically adjust to losing those students.
“So you as a taxpayer are still paying for vouchers — believe me the state is still paying — but we can’t count those students as being in the district and we lose state aid,” Hazen said.
Kristie Formolo, of Mount Pleasant, said she would be sending her children to the Union Grove Union High School District.
“We will be sending our daughter to Union Grove High School next fall," Formolo said. "This is another one of many Honor Roll students who have left our district. We are doing this, because we are fed up with the way RUSD handles behavior problems in our district.
"Kids and teachers are getting hurt by out of control students and all RUSD does is shift those kids to other schools. There is a lack of accountability from the top down and we are sick of it. Our son has one more year at Case H.S., and he will stay because the Virtual Schooling is working for him."
Formolo asked if the Board had ever asked the parents who have left the school district why the left.
But Dennis Wiser, president of the board, said the district has surveyed parents who chose to leave the district and have done focus groups.
“We are also implementing a new teacher evaluation system this coming fall,” he said.
Hazen also explained the reason why the district had higher healthcare costs. Since the district switched from a lower deductible plan to a higher deductible plan in July, employees had two different deductibles they could meet for the year.
“So we had a bump in spending, but when we get the numbers for this year my guess is that we’ll see a considerable drop,” he said. “Employees could pay up to $8,000 of their own healthcare costs. That’s why we had more savings in the year.”
School Board president Dennis Wiser said the final budget won't be adopted until October after the September enrollment counts and state aid is finalized.