The Madison School District is looking to cover a $7.7 million shortfall in its budget next year with a 3.3% property tax levy increase and a number of cost-saving measures.
The forecasted tax levy increase could change once the state passes its biennial budget this summer, but the district estimates it will cost an average Madison homeowner an extra $115 in property taxes. The average home value used by the district to determine the tax levy increase is $321,000.
Superintendent Carlton Jenkins plans to release a draft budget for the 2021-22 school year later this month. It will be his first since being hired last summer midway through the annual budget process.
In January the district projected it would receive $7.7 million less in revenue than it expected to spend next year, with the gap due to rising costs for employee wages and benefits, planned equity and student learning initiatives, and other required services.
The gap comes despite $8 million in anticipated new revenue because expenditures are expected to increase $15.7 million over the current year. Enrollment is expected to remain stable after reductions this past year amid the pandemic.
The district has worked with the School Board in recent months to identify cost-saving measures to chip away at the gap.
The most expensive equity initiatives for the upcoming school year include the district’s Early Literacy and Beyond strategy, full-day 4-year-old kindergarten and spending on new culturally relevant curriculum.
“Our governor has in the budget a full-day 4K proposal; now we might not be seeing much love for it at the state level, but this would be the second biennium in a row we’ve seen full-day 4K being advocated for on the state level,” said Kelly Ruppel, the district’s chief financial officer.
Ruppel said the district was able to close the budget gap by refinancing district debt, using solar energy utility savings and Medicaid reimbursement dollars, decreasing retiree payments due to fewer retirements, and retiring certain equity programs that are now integrated into everyday teaching.
Ruppel also said the district is on track to meet several goals by launching the district’s first virtual learning program, implementing full-day 4K, supporting programs for students with the highest needs, funding a multiyear early literacy program and covering an expected 2% average increase in employee pay based on education and experience, plus a 1.23% inflationary increase to the base wage.
An exact employee raise has not yet been negotiated with the teachers union. Under the 2011 law known as Act 10, the state limits negotiations over base wage increases to inflation.
“We’re trying to figure out, how do we manage this pandemic which continues to cause us all to pivot?” Jenkins said in support of the launch of Madison’s virtual learning program. “The parents and the students are all indicating that ‘hey, I may want a different option.’”
The district is slated to receive $71 million in federally allocated COVID-19 recovery funds, but those funds are not designed to close budget gaps, district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said.
Federal COVID-19 relief funds are a one-time allocation and can’t be used for permanent staffing, salary or health care plan increases, among other reoccurring expenses. Instead, the funds will be used to cover COVID-19-related costs, including additional nursing assistants for contract tracing, personal protective equipment, and technology and virtual learning.
The COVID funds will also be used to accelerate academics and provide social-emotional supports to students as they return to school next year, LeMonds said.
A draft of the 2021-22 preliminary budget will be released during an April 26 regular board meeting, along with details on proposed expenditures for the upcoming school year, and will be voted on by the School Board in October.
PHOTOS: MADISON KINDERGARTNERS, MASKED UP AND READY TO LEARN