WAUKESHA, WI — Citing the need to cover the costs of a 2018 schools referendum, Waukesha School District officials rolled out a preliminary budget for the 2019-20 school year that carves out a roughly 11 percent property tax levy increase.
According to district officials, the proposed 2019-20 budget includes a tax levy increase of 11.35 percent. The tax rate per $1,000 of property value would be $8.51 compared to $7.80 in last year’s budget cycle. The increase amounts to about $142 for the owner of a $200,000 property.
I would note that the Waukesha School District, in a trend being repeated all over Wisconsin, has declining enrollment. According to DPI, they have 415 fewer kids than they did five years ago. That;s a decline of 3%. Yet they still want more and more money.
We have a major spending problem in our school districts. I think everyone understands that school districts can’t necessarily cut spending when enrollment declines slightly in a year. But when that decline is sustained over several years and the district is educating hundreds of fewer kids, shouldn’t spending go down at some point? And if spending declines in a district where the aggregate property values are steady or increasing, a decline in spending should result in a tax decrease.
And yet that never seems to happen. What is the breaking point? Will it take a 10% decline in enrollment before the school board starts to scale back spending to be in line with their responsibility? 15%? 25%? When can the taxpayers reasonably expect school boards to cut spending when enrollment is declining?