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Jennifer Cheatham

Jennifer Cheatham, the Madison School District's superintendent, has proposed a 4.5 percent property tax increase in her first budget.

In her first budget proposal, Madison superintendent Jennifer Cheatham is recommending a slight decrease in spending and a 4.5 percent property tax increase.

The $260.4 million tax levy is $7.2 million less than what district officials projected in April and would raise the tax bill on an average $230,831 Madison home about $102.

“I hope the budget proposal reflects a budget that is responsible, bringing down the tax levy increase to the extent possible, while protecting the core work that happens in our school work to protect students and teachers in the classroom,” Cheatham said.

Overall, the $391 million budget is a half percent decrease from last year. The district has to raise taxes while cutting spending due to an $8.7 million cut in state aid, she said.

The budget doesn’t include money for new initiatives under the district’s plan to raise low-income and minority student achievement, which was crafted by Cheatham’s predecessor. Existing programs will continue.

To cut spending the district is reducing its maintenance budget by $600,000, reducing non-personnel expenses and cutting some vacant positions. The budget includes no major new programs, and supply, services and equipment budgets are frozen.

Cheatham is proposing a 1 percent increase in the employee salary schedule and a 1.5 percent increase for certain hourly employees, including education assistants, security assistants and food service workers. The cost of the raise is $1.9 million.

Larger percentage tax increase

The proposed tax increase is larger than last year’s 1.75 percent increase, or an extra $8 on the average home’s tax bill. The 4.5 percent increase is about a percentage point higher than the average over the past decade.

It’s also $12.5 million less than the maximum amount the district could tax under state limits, which would be a 9.5 percent increase.

A public hearing will be held at the Aug. 26 School Board meeting before the board is expected to take its first vote on the budget. The board will grant final approval to the tax levy in October after official state aid figures are determined.

School Board president Ed Hughes said Cheatham’s proposal “strikes a reasonable balance between our need to hold down the property tax levy and fund our critical services.”

Helping reduce taxes, the district plans to spend $3.1 million from its reserves, mostly on debt service. Reserves peaked at $46.9 million in 2012, more than double the amount in 2007. They declined to $41.5 million this year.

Cheatham, who started April 1, said she will conduct a more thorough review of the district’s spending in putting together the budget for 2014-15. She said she hopes to find savings in administrative costs that can be used to increase maintenance and technology spending.

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The Madison School District 2013-14 budget proposal

Madison School District budget 2012-13 2013-14 Percent chage
Total spending $392.9 million $391 million -0.5
Total tax levy $249.2 million $260.4 million 4.5
Tax rate $11.52 $12.02 4.3
Average Madison home value $232,024 $230,831 -0.5
Average Madison home taxes $2,673 $2,775 3.8

Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.