School book and apple

The Madison School District on Friday released a preliminary budget for next school year that would provide a modest wage increase for employees and slightly reduce overall staffing levels. It also aims to increase support for African American students as part of the district’s “Black Excellence” priority.

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said in her budget message the $462.6 million total proposed spending package is an “unapologetic equity budget.” It would increase property taxes by $86 for the owner of an average-value home in the Madison School District, now estimated at $294,833.

“This budget presents an opportunity to align our resources with this new strategy and make our vision reality,” Cheatham said in her message.

The total budget, which includes payments on debt service, capital maintenance and community programs, would slightly decrease from the current year spending, but the property tax levy would rise 6.2% to $327.1 million. The district’s portion of property taxes on an average-value home is estimated at $3,240 next year, or a 2.73% increase, in the preliminary budget.

Operating expenses — which include costs associated with traditional school expenditures such as teachers’ salaries and classroom instruction — make up $418.3 million of the budget. The operating budget would increase 0.65% from current spending levels.

2019-20 Madison School District preliminary budget chart

The budget plan highlights programs that prioritize equity, student support and mental health services.

Last fall, the district rolled out its Black Excellence initiative intended to improve academic achievement of black students. The preliminary budget includes $250,000 in repurposed funds for a district coalition to invest in programs designed to support black youth based on community input. The money would be appropriated on an annual basis.

The budget also proposes spending $121,000 to help 15 teachers on provisional licenses attain full special-education teaching certification in response to a shortage of special-education teachers in the district.

The Madison School Board is set to adopt the preliminary budget during its June meeting before finalizing a 2019-20 spending plan in October, after the state budget and property values are finalized.

Among other proposals included in the budget are:

  • $90,000 to expand the Behavioral Health in Schools program, which provides children with mental health services, from being available in eight schools to 12 .
  • $200,000 for professional development and training related to the district’s discipline policy, known as the Behavior Education Plan, which was recently revised by the School Board.
  • $320,000 for a “micro school” concept to educate up to 25 students significantly at-risk of not graduating, after the idea was piloted last spring for La Follette High School students.

Budget assumptions

In crafting the preliminary budget, Kelly Ruppel, the district’s chief financial officer, said the district has made a series of assumptions on different funding components that could be affected as the divided state government works on its own budget.

The district is assuming there will be a $100-per-student increase in revenue limit authority next school year based on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ call to raise the limit by $200 per student. Under the district’s assumption, it would be able to levy an additional $2.7 million.

“Not knowing what’s going to come out of the state budget, considering the political environment at the state, we thought $100 per pupil in revenue limit adjustment was a moderate estimate to make, hopefully it does go up from there,” Ruppel said.

She said the district is also taking a cautious estimate it will lose $6.5 million, or 15%, in state general aid — the district’s second-largest source of money behind property taxes.

While Evers has proposed a $606 million increase in special education funding, Ruppel said the preliminary budget doesn’t account for any potential changes in state special-education money.

The 2019-20 school year will be the last budget of a four-year phase-in to increase the district’s revenue limit authority by $26 million that taxpayers approved by referendum in 2016.

“Thanks to the local taxpayers, we have revenue that we can use to invest in our students, our staff and our community,” Ruppel said.

Labor changes

The district anticipates a cumulative reduction of 39.3 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions, which represents less than 1% of all employees.

The majority of job losses, 31, would be in teaching. Ruppel said it is primarily driven by a projected decrease in enrollment at elementary schools.

However, she said, the district is looking to increase staffing in other positions, such as 2.3 FTE for social workers and 8.1 FTE for special education teachers.

“Even though our enrollment is not necessarily increasing, the intentional investments into the budget are in staffing that is directly tied to student supports,” Ruppel said.

The budget provides a 0.5% base wage increase for district employees and estimates an average salary increase of 2.5% when factoring in the salary schedule, which rewards teacher education levels and experience.

But Madison Teachers Inc. is seeking a base wage increase of 2.44% — the highest allowable under state law this year — as certain employees such as substitute teachers would not be able to benefit from the salary schedule, said Doug Keillor, the union’s executive director.

Last year, the district initially budgeted a 0.5% base wage increase, but the Madison School Board raised it to the maximum-allowed 2.13% base wage boost through cuts in the administrative offices. That resulted in an average wage increase of 4.13% in 2018-19.

Personnel spending, such as salaries and benefits, constitutes 83% of the district’s operating budget.

Ruppel said the budget also includes some minor changes to health insurance plans to offset a $2.5 million increase in district costs. Employees would have a $150 emergency room visit co-pay compared to the current $50 co-pay.

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