On a 7-0 vote, Madison School Board members Monday approved a $390 million preliminary operating budget for the next school year that is balanced and features largely stable staffing after two years of personnel cuts, plus raises all around.
But not before some debate over reducing class sizes, resulting in approval of an amendment by board member TJ Mertz in a 4-3 vote that could add up to $1 million for additional classroom staffing and cost taxpayers a bit more.
Board vice president Mary Burke was one of three who opposed the amendment, because the increase in the tax levy could rise from 3.97 percent to 4.317 percent.
Burke noted the board had promised taxpayers the levy would rise no more than 3.97 percent — which equals about a $74 annual increase for the owner of an average Madison home, according to the district — as a condition of their approval of a referendum in November that permanently increased the district’s annual revenue limit authority by $26 million over four years.
“I’m not comfortable breaking that promise,” Burke said. “This (amendment) is basically a go-ahead to go past 3.97 percent.”
Burke and other opponents of the measure also noted the budget as proposed by Superintendent Jen Cheatham already includes 18 teacher positions held in reserve to address crowded classrooms if needed. Mertz’s amendment, if fully funded, would add about another 7.5 positions to the available reserve of teacher positions.
But board member Dean Loumos noted the wording of Mertz’s amendment — asking for “up to” $1 million more in added staff, depending on how much per-pupil state aid the district ultimately receives — didn’t actually commit the board to doing anything. As approved, Mertz’s amendment calls for no additional staff allocation if the per-pupil aid increase is $100 or less, and up to $1 million if it is $200 or more, as Gov. Scott Walker is proposing.
The district will get a final estimate of how much it will receive in October. Until then, and pending a final enrollment count in the fall, Loumos argued, the board shouldn’t box itself in by rejecting Mertz’s amendment.
“We have a solid 18 (teacher positions in reserve) we can plug in now,” Loumos said. “We may not need any more.”
Board members also heard from several public speakers including district staff and teachers who urged the board to adopt Mertz’s amendment, and about 25 supporters of reduced class sizes also held a small rally outside the district administration building before the meeting.
Burke noted the district already has one of the lowest average class sizes in the state while agreeing with the rest of the board and district staff in their presentation Monday night that there were “outliers” with higher class sizes that need to be addressed.
$390M in spending
As approved Monday, the district’s $390 million operating budget funds basic operations, including all instructional programming for an estimated 25,270 students in grades kindergarten through 12.
The operating budget is made up of the special education fund and general fund, where board members have the most discretion.
The board on Monday also approved what’s known as its “all-funds” budget, at $494,652,025, which includes the proposed operating budget. This fund captures all budget activity, including construction, food service and debt service, for which there is no flexibility in spending.
Not counting Mertz’s amendment, the total spending plan representing a balanced budget raises property taxes by an estimated 3.97 percent. The owner of a $258,367 home — considered average by the district — will pay a projected $3,108, an increase of $74 over the prior year.
District budget director Mike Barry said the district could know by July how much the $74 average increase could rise, as a result of Mertz’s amendment.
The approved budget also:
- Refrains from using the district’s full levy authority by $2 million and uses no reserve funds.
- Holds spending on capital maintenance steady.
- Increases advanced learner staffing by $218,000 and behavior education plan supports by $498,000.
- Increases full-time-equivalent staff by 24, for a total of 4,056 FTE, an increase of just under 1 percent.
- Increases wages by an average 3.76 percent, including an across-the-board base wage increase of 1.26 percent, plus possible increases based on an employee’s years of experience and any added coursework completed.
In addition, through $3 million in health insurance savings achieved by dropping one of the district’s three health insurance plans, the budget increases summer school teacher pay to $25 per hour, raises the beginning teacher salary to $41,096 annually, and creates a $15-per-hour minimum wage, a provision affecting some 380 educational assistants and food service workers.
The 2017-18 fiscal year begins July 1. The board will vote on a final budget in October, after enrollment figures, state aid and other needed details are finalized.