KUSD forced to take lower tax levy
At tonight’s KUSD board meeting, Mary Snyder, board president, informed the roughly 125-member audience that the KUSD is at the maximum tax levy according to the State formula. Therefore, a decrease of 1.04 % from last year’s tax levy was unanimously voted upon. Snyder made it clear that “it was not the board’s choice to lower the tax levy; they are bound by State law. We have difficult decisions coming up,” she said.
Superintendent Michele Hancock gave a presentation to the board and the audience entitled, “The Truth of Reality.” She presented the facts as to how the district finds itself in the ’financial crisis’ it’s in today. “In an unprecedented move, eight hundred million dollars ($800 million) was taken out of public education in one fell swoop,” Hancock stated. “This is a major decline in support. Plus, a 4.7% decrease in property values is something that the KUSD cannot control. Some people say that we can’t afford to provide a quality school system. But, I say that we can’t afford not to provide a quality school system.”
Challenges that KUSD has faced are decreases in state funding and per pupil funding, declining property values, limited revenue sources, and fixed operating expenses. “Our goal,” Hancock said, “is to protect what we have. We need all employees’ support and the support of the community-at-large. We must move away from fingerpointing and blame.”
Hancock quoted Joe Kiriaki, executive director of the Kenosha Education Association (KEA): “We need to talk as a community about our schools. Community meetings need to be held.” Hancock agreed. “In fact, we have already done this,” she said.
Since her arrival in July, 2010, Hancock said that one of her main priorities has been the financial health of the district. She stated that she has made 156 visits to schools, talking to teachers, administrators, and staff about her concerns. An assessment was made by outside auditors, and they have recommended various steps that the district needs to take, and “we are following the advice of our outside auditors.”
Several factors have “masked” the district’s financial status: the federal stimulus of jobs, and the fact that the district has been growing over the years, up until now. “There is a dysfunctionality between Finance and H. R.” She then proceeded to outline nine system changes that the Finance Department has put into place, such as moving the Payroll Department from under the Finance Department to the H.R. Department. Other changes included a restructured finance team, a clear separation of duties, key reports now made clearer to the Budget/Audit/Finance Committee and to the Board on cash and investments, vacancy savings, quarterly forecasts, etc. ”Even with the changes, the sacrifices, and hard work of the employees, we still have challenges.”
“We are moving forward. We will be successful. Every employee needs to give back. No more fingerpointing,” were Hancock’s closing remarks.
Then, Tina Schmitz, the new director of finance, gave the details. “Eight point two million dollars ($8.2 million) will have to be taken from the general fund balance to make up the difference in the total shortfall.” The recommended total tax levy is $93,678,054, which represents a 1.04% decrease from last year. Seventy-seven million dollars ($77 million) comes from the general fund, $14.6 million from the debt service fund, and almost $2 million from the community service fund. This represents a decrease of $998,000 in the 2011-2012 school year.
Schmitz’s comments were: “Because of the final pupil counts, the revenue limit was decreased, which did not allow us to retain the tax levy. The maximum amount for the general fund is $77 million (down $2 million from last year). The total mil rate is $11.02 per $1,000 of property valuation, which is an increase of 3.94% over the prior year, but with a 4.79% decrease in property values. When the property values go down, the mil rate goes up.”
Her recommendations were to accept the budget with the use of the $8.2 million. Board members Pam Stevens, David Gallo, Bob Nuzzo, Carl Bryan, Rebecca Stevens, and JoAnn Taube, all thanked Hancock profusely for her efforts in attempting to turn around the financial outlook for the district. Pam Stevens said that she was “happy that Hancock puts children first. That’s what we hired her to do.” Gallo realizes that we must all “own the problem. We have the right person steering the ship. We have a fixable problem. It’s scary, and we have lots of work, but it’s definitely fixable.”
Nuzzo also felt that Hancock was doing a great job. “We are lucky to have her here. My first priority is students, my second priority is students, and my third priority is students. I’ve been pleading with the union for their help. We have other problems. The audit has shown us that we have a $300 million problem staring us in the face. We need help now. This year, we’re taking the shortfall out of the general fund. We’ll be ok this year, but next year, we’ll have a problem. If you care about students, then either put up, or shut up.”
Bryan thanked Hancock, the administration and all of the staff for their dedication and sacrifice in trying to make this as painless as possible. He stated that he wanted to “dedicate this vote to the lawmakers in Madison. One point six billion dollars ($1.6 billion) was the amount the state cut from education in total. It’s not democrat versus republican, and it’s not a Scott Walker issue.” He said that we have to examine our priorities. “We need to tell Madison to take the burden off the taxpayers.”
Dr. Hancock said that Schmitz presented the fiscal challenge. They will now take the next two weeks to analyze and explore expenses that can be trimmed for the remainder of this school year. She stated that she “wants to reach out profoundly to all union represented employees and work together to turn the tide. This is the only way that we will survive what has occurred. We have almost 23,000 students in our system. We need to all come together and find solutions. We must come up with a new way of doing business. We must bring the 21st century into our learning and thinking. I’m prayerful and hopeful that we have open minds in our community. This is no longer the industrial age, but the knowledge age. We must see the potential of what we can do for our children. It will not stop us. We must maintain what we have for our students. The blame game can’t continue on any level.”
Rebecca Stevens said that we “have to come back to the table and see what we can do. No one asked for this. We all have to put some skin in the game to help us face this financial crisis. The best investment is in our children. We must figure out how we can fund education and sustain it. I’m very appreciative of Dr. Hancock. It’s not blame and shame, it’s being responsible. We all must do our part.”
Taube said that “failure is not an option. This was a somber evening. We must move forward and maintain the quality of our schools. The whole educational system is under attack. We must keep our strong Wisconsin traditions so that we can protect our future and our jobs.”
The board unanimously approved the recommendation for the tax levy decrease.
In other school board business, the entire consent agenda was approved. This included the recommendations concerning appointments, leaves of absence, retirements, and resignations; the classification, compensation, and personnel policy for non-represented, non-supervisory, “miscellaneous” employees; the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy grant proposal; the waiver of Policy 1330 – “Use of District Facilities” for two requesters; and the sale of the Columbus School property and the property at 5512 Green Bay Road. Discussion items included: the elimination of energy rebates for the schools; the official third Friday enrollment report; the employee complaint (grievance) procedure; the 2010-2011 budget carryovers to the 2011-2012 budget, and the formal adoption of the 2011-2012 budget. To read more details about any of these items, please click here: KUSD Standing Committee Meetings Report.