RACINE — The Racine Unified School Board is set to approve a preliminary version of its 2018-19 school year budget on Monday, but many of the numbers going into its formulation are still up in the air.
That initial version of the budget will be published in the newspaper, per state law, and then district is set to host a public budget hearing on Sept. 10. The final version of the budget and property tax levy will be approved by the School Board in October or November.
The estimated amount for Unified’s budget for the 2018-19 school year is $332 million, an increase from last year due to $20 million in spending of borrowed funds for school construction and maintenance and a $5 million increase in private school voucher payments, according to Marc Duff, Unified’s chief financial officer.
“At this point, the budget includes a lot of guesswork, as the district doesn’t know how many students will be enrolled at the third Friday in September count,” Duff said, referring to the official enrollment number used by the state in calculating school aid.
In the meantime, the district works to make educated guesses about the budget, since as its yearly revenue limit is based on enrollment. Unified anticipates a decrease of approximately 300 students.
Duff has been informed by the state that the district will have an estimated 4.4 percent increase in its equalized property value, which would likely lead to a decrease from last year’s tax rate of $10.02 per $1,000 of valuation. The rate would not decrease if the School Board decides to put a referendum to the voters in November, and voters approve it. The School Board, also on Monday, is set to vote on whether to authorize a referendum.
A sizable chunk of Unified’s budget funds vouchers for students in the district to attend private schools. The voucher levy last year was $14.2 million and is expected to increase this year to about $19.6 million. The state expects that about 650 more students in the district this year will utilize vouchers, Duff said.
For the past several years, the district has put more annually toward building maintenance, as was requested by the School Board. The 2018-19 proposed budget includes an increase of $300,000 for maintenance in the coming year, for a total of $1.8 million. In 2014-15, the total maintenance budget was only $600,000.
“So there was an intentional plan to grow that,” Duff said. “Even growing it by $300,000 a year, you can barely get a roof fixed for $300,000.”
Also in this year’s budget is a $200,000 increase to base textbook and curriculum funding for new high school English, middle and high school science, K-12 world languages and high school social studies.
Unified is set to save about $2.9 million in staffing costs in the coming year, thanks to a schools reorganization that included moving the programming from Bull Fine Arts Elementary to Gilmore Middle School and the programming from Walden III Middle and High School to McKinley Middle School. Positions eliminated through the reorganization were in all areas including teaching, clerical, administrative and janitorial, Duff said.
By closing the Bull and Walden buildings, both old structures, the district is also set to save on utilities. Unified plans to use some of the cost savings to pay for more instructional coaches to support teachers, at a total cost of $400,000.
“It allowed us to re-prioritize our expenditures to other needs,” Duff said.
A relatively small, new expense in this year’s budget is $100,000 to fund School-based Teacher Academies of Racine, or STAR. This program is a partnership between Unified and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside that will allow individuals to teach at Unified schools for two years while also taking classes and working toward a teaching certificate.
There are a few items that district officials would like to fund, but have not been able so far to work into the budget.
This includes providing transportation to K-8 students who live more than 1.5 miles from the school they attend, at a cost of $415,000. The district currently provides busing for students who live 1.9 miles or more from the school they attend.
Also unfunded at this point are proposals to add a high school mental health clinic for $60,000 and hiring three high school technology “integrators” at a total cost of $240,000.