As previously noted, I re-presented the findings of the West Bend School District Private Task Force to a group of interested citizens in Jackson. The Washington County Insider streamed it live and has the recording and recap. You can find that here.
I thought the meeting went well and the Q&A was robust. With an audience of mostly folks from Jackson, there were a lot of concerns about how Jackson is perceived to be treated by the rest of the district, the economic impact of Jackson Elementary, and other concerns specific to Jackson. The most interesting discussion was about whether or not Jackson should break off and form its own district. One of the audience members shared that the Village Board approached the School Board about 20 years ago to discuss this and were dismissed out of hand. That’s unfortunate, but it is an interesting question to ponder. The rationale is that Slinger has about 5,000 citizens and has its own district. Jackson has about 5,700 citizens and does not. And the citizens of Jackson are frustrated with not being able to determine their own destiny regarding public schools.
The process to break off and create a new district is not easy. Essentially, the West Bend School Board would have to agree. If they don’t agree, then the electors can appeal and maybe can still get it done. Then they have to pass a referendum to borrow the money to build the new schools, and actually create a new district. In the case of Jackson, it may get even more complicated. Remember that the Village and Town of Jackson actually sits in three school districts – Germantown, Slinger, and West Bend. So if Jackson wants to stretch its district boundaries to include a larger tax base, they would need to get each relevant school board to agree. If you think getting one board to agree would be hard, imaging three. If Jackson just limits a new district boundary to the part that currently exists in the West Bend School District, then they are excluding a significant tax base to support the new district.
If Jackson can get through the process, then comes the reality of building a new district. Let’s just do some simple math. I don’t have easy data for how many school age kids are in Jackson and it would really depend on where they draw the line. But there are 351 kids in the K-4 Jackson Elementary. Figure that means that with an even distribution, there are about 70 Jackson kids in each grade level. That’s a total of 910 kids. So… if there are 910 kids in the new district and they spend $10,000 per kid (that’s below the state average of $11,071), then the annual spend for the new district would need to be about $9.1 million. Of that, the state taxpayers will pay a portion. How much? No idea. But as a relatively property rich district, I would venture to say that it would be less than half. To be generous, let’s say that the state taxpayers would pay half of the cost, so local property taxpayers would have to pay $4,550,000 per year to support the district. That’s just operating cost and does not include the initial construction costs.
Still with me? OK, so here is the most recent property values of the municipalities in the West Bend School District:
So let’s say that best case, both the Village and Town of Jackson create their own district. That’s an equalized value of $950,334,000 of equalized value. To generate $4,550,000 of annual tax revenue, it would take a mill rate of 4.79 – or $4.79 for every $1,000 of property value. For a $200,000 house, that would be a tax bill of $958 per year. For comparison, the West Bend School District has a mill rate of 7.97.
With these set of assumptions, it might make financial sense for Jackson to create its own district. Of course, those assumptions may change radically. For example, if it is only the Village of Jackson and does not include the Town of Jackson, then the tax base is cut in a third. And if the taxpayers only pay for 20% or 25% of the annual cost, then the balance would have to come from the local property taxpayers. Or if they decide to spend $12,000 per child or $8,500 per child, the costs would change dramatically.
In any case, if the folks in Jackson are serious about this, they will need to figure out what they want the end state to look like and then run the approval process gauntlet. It would be an interesting evaluation. And as I said in the meeting, I would hope that the beginning and ending consideration from both the folks in Jackson and those on the West Bend School Board would be what is in the best interests of the most kids.