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State budget changes cost Somerset schools $550,000

Schools all over the state were affected by late changes in the state budget approval process.

Somerset's schools took a huge hit because of these changes. The changes in the state funding cost the Somerset School District about $550,000 in state aids that had been expected to be received.

The school officials knew that cuts were coming. They had been told to anticipate cuts in the 3 percent range. There was shock when they found out that the district's state aids were cut by 6.8 percent. That produced the $550,000 drop in the district's funding.

Because the funding remained within the district's revenue limits, "this will basically be a shift to property taxes unless we're told otherwise," said Somerset School District business manager Bob Avery.

Avery said the $550,000 shortfall would result in a 77 cent increase per $1,000 of equalized property value for all taxable property within the school district. That would mean a $154 increase for a $200,000 home in the district. Avery said the school administration would be looking at other ways to cut costs within the district.

The school district must finalize its budget by the end of October.

The lateness of the actions by the state put the school district in a difficult position. No staff can be cut, because the district is contractually obligated to notify the teachers union of any planned cuts in the spring.

There are staff additions for this year that could be affected. The school board had moved to hire a Title 1 math teacher at the elementary level to help struggling students. A special ed aide position was added. There were also slight increases in the school psychologist, middle school family and consumer education and high school journalism positions that were recently approved. The FCE and journalism increases were based on increased class registrations in those areas.

The school board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 17, for its next full board meeting. Avery said he expects the board will be discussing how to deal with the shortfall at that time.

The school district annual meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. at the high school. The annual district budget hearing is part of the annual meeting.

While the state aid total is set, there are factors that could affect this year's tax hit. One would be a double-edged sword. The lower the enrollment at the start of the school year, the lower the tax impact would be for 2010. But school funding is based on the preceding year's enrollment. So having lower student totals would offer short-term relief, but it would ultimately mean less state funding for the district for the 2010-11 school year.

Avery said all these changes came after Gov. Jim Doyle presented his state budget. It was found later that the state revenue totals were not going to be as high as anticipated, so more cuts had to be made. A new school funding formula was designed and a number of school districts suffered.

Somerset isn't alone in the suffering. The Madison School District lost in the neighborhood of $10 million. The Hudson School District lost $2.7 million.

Other news

-- The board approved new health insurance rates for the next two years. The first year of the contract will see a 6.5 percent increase. The second year has a 6.5 percent increase ceiling, but the rate may come in lower than that amount.

-- School board member Mike Connor received an award from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards for his 20 years of service on the Somerset board.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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