Estimates released this month by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction indicate state aid to Waupaca schools may be cut by as much as $500,000 in 2014-15.
Not including this most recent cut, the Waupaca School District has seen its state aid decrease by a total of $3.4 million over the past five years, according to District Administrator Dave Poeschl.
Under state law, when a school district loses state aid, it can recoup that money by increasing property taxes.
“Over that same five-year period, we’ve only recouped $1.9 million through increased property taxes,” Poeschl said. “We’ve been fully aware of the effect that the decrease in state aids has on taxpayers. We’ve been doing the best we can to mitigate that effect.”
As a result of not raising property taxes to cover lost state aid, the Waupaca School District’s budget is about $2.7 million below the state-mandated revenue cap.
“We can’t continue to do that and at the same time provide the quality education our community is expecting,” Poeschl said.
Poeschl noted that the DPI July report on state aids is a preliminary estimate and the district’s 2014-15 state aid could be higher than currently projected.
A year ago this month, the DPI estimated Waupaca’s 2013-14 state aid would be $8.68 million, representing a $200,000 cut over the previous year.
In October 2013, as the district was finalizing its 2013-14 budget, the DPI announced that Waupaca would receive $8.9 million in state aid.
“If this estimate in fact turns out to be true, we will be forced to balance this loss in state aid with an increase in property taxes,” Poeschl said.
“We will more than likely stay well below the allowable tax levy,” said Carl Hayek, the district’s business manager.
Hayek said the district spent about $22 million for general operations in 2013-14, which excludes debt service, special education and food services. Total spending for the year totaled about $30 million.
Poeschl attributed Waupaca’s ongoing cuts in state aid to three factors: declining enrollments, stable property values in the district relative to the state, and the amount the district spends per pupil.
For more than a decade, enrollment in Waupaca schools has been dropping.
In 2002-03, the September count was 2,612. In 2013-14, enrollment in Waupaca was down to 2,174.
Waupaca estimates it will have about 2,133 students in 2014-15.
“We continue to drop, but the loss of enrollment is leveling off,” Poeschl said.
Hayek said he believes that property values may be the primary factor in the state aid formula causing Waupaca’s state aid to decline.
Total property values in the district are just over $1.37 billion. In 2010, the district’s total property values were assessed at $1.48 billion.
“The state as a whole has decreased, while the Waupaca School District has either decreased less than the rest of the state or in fact increased,” Poeschl said. “As a result, school districts with declining property values get more state aid while Waupaca gets less.”
According to the DPI. more than half of Wisconsin public school districts will receive more general aid in the 2014-15 than they did last year.
Poeschl said the district cannot control how many children enroll in the schools or local property values.
What the district can control, Poeschl said, is what it spends per pupil.
In 2010-11, Waupaca spent $9,558 per pupil while the state spent $10,617 per pupil.
In 2012-13, Waupaca spent $9,143 per pupil while the state spent $10,051.
“We currently spend approximately $900 less per pupil less than the state average,” Poeschl said. “Over 75 percent of schools in the state spend more per pupil than the School District of Waupaca.”