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Unified approves budget, with or without referendum
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Unified approves budget, with or without referendum

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RACINE — Taxpayers in the Racine Unified School District will assuredly see a decrease in their tax rate this year.

However, the exact amount depends on whether or not voters approve a referendum next week in which Unified will ask to collect an additional $8.5 million each year for 15 years.

The Unified School Board approved two separate budgets Tuesday evening – one planning for district voters to approve the referendum and one planning for voters to reject it – with tax rates that differ by a matter of pennies, according to district budget documents.

The board approved both the budgets and their respective levies by an 8-0 vote, with board member Wally Rendón not present at the meeting.

Referendum and goals

The primary budget counts on voters approving the referendum and allowing the district to collect an extra $8.5 million per year above its state-mandated revenue cap for the next 15 years. The idea will appear on district voters’ ballots on Election Day, Nov. 4.

Due to about $11.4 million in extra state aid coming to the district this year reducing the amount the district collects, Unified officials have touted the unique opportunity of being able to collect more funds while still lowering taxes in the short term.

Funds collected through the referendum will be dedicated primarily to deferred or impending maintenance on the districts’ more than 30 buildings as well as security, safety and technology upgrades.

Tax rates and impact

The final budget with an approved referendum calls for a tax rate of $9.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value, while the final alternative budget, which does not count on the extra referendum funds, will have a tax rate of $9.51, or 8 cents less.

Both of these rates are down 37 cents and 45 cents, respectively, from last year’s rate of $9.96 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The owner of a $100,000 property would pay $959 with the referendum and $951 without, a difference of $8.

Similar levies

Compared to the 2013-14 total tax levy of $78.8 million, this year’s levy would drop to $77.1 million if the referendum is approved or $76.5 million if the referendum is not approved. The numbers for total tax levy are close to one another because the district plans to pay off more debt if the referendum fails, to maintain the spending level necessary to trigger a continuing flow of aid under a state formula. Unified also seeks to avoid wild fluctuations in taxes for homeowners.

“Good fiscal management is having a stable tax rate,” Unified’s Deputy Chief Financial Officer Marc Duff said. “We have worked to have a more stabilized tax rate to minimize the roller coaster effect.”

Budget highlights

Some of the additional expenses covered in the budget include adding eight freshmen advocate positions to district high schools as part of new freshmen cohort class structure, upgrades as part of the rebuilding of Mitchell Middle and Elementary schools, as well as other new educational programs.

In addition the budget includes cost of living raises for staff and a 7 percent pay increase for substitute teachers.

If the referendum is approved the budget would also cover about $2 million to add computers and upgrade technology in schools and about $6.5 million in facilities improvements, including the first planning stages of rebuilding two schools – both subject to board approval.

The total Unified budget calls for about $289 million in expenditures in all with the referendum and about $280.5 million without the referendum, both down from $306 million in the 2013-14 budget.

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