RACINE — Wisconsin limits the ways school districts can use dollars in their community service funds, but a sports complex for the community’s use, in conjunction with county fits well within those parameters.
Racine Unified expects to contribute a total of $3 million from its community service fund over 15 years to such a complex at Pritchard Park, at the corner of Durand Avenue and Ohio Street. RUSD would do so in partnership with Racine County, which plans to pitch in the same amount.
The complex, if funding is approved by the boards of both governmental entities, would include a multipurpose stadium, plaza, concessions area, a varsity baseball field and a varsity softball field.
Per state law, the district can only levy and use community service funds for initiatives and projects that benefit the community, beyond just Unified students, according to Marc Duff, the district’s chief financial officer.
“It’s meant for the entire community,” Duff said.
Community fund uses
Unified uses community service funds to pay for before- and after-school extended learning programs, open to all local students. The district also has used these funds in Sturtevant at the REAL School fieldhouse, an indoor sports complex that provides open gym time for the community.
Other programs that benefit from community service funds include: the Lighthouse Brigade, a summer drum and bugle corps, which includes students from across the county; Parent University, which features educational classes for any local family on subjects such as bullying and homework help; and Unified’s community mental health clinic at 2333 Northwestern Ave., which is open to any K-12 student and family in the community.
Community service funds make up a very small fraction of the district’s overall tax levy. Last year the fund made up 1.3 percent of Unified’s levied funds.
Although the tax rate has remained flat over the past few years, the district has been expanding its community services, and has grown its community service levy to fund those services.
In 2015-16, the district levied $850,000 for community service funds, but in 2017-18 it levied $1.1 million. During that time the overall tax rate for district funds decreased from $10.63 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $10.02 last year. It is expected to decrease again this year, although the budget has not been finalized.
Duff said the community service levy and the restrictions placed on those funds helps the state ensure that districts don’t take money from the classroom to pay for community programs.
After Racine County and Unified announced their planned partnership for the sports complex earlier this week, some in the community asked why the district wasn’t using the $3 million it plans to spend on the project to repair or replace the Case High School pool. The pool is sitting empty this year; just prior to the start of the school year, it was found to be structurally unsound and unsafe for swimming.
Duff explained that the district can’t use community service funds to pay for something that is designed for and only benefits Unified students.
“The Case pool is specific to Case students,” he said.
Duff said that in theory, if the district constructed a standalone pool separate from Case that was open to the rest of the community, it might be able to use community service funds for that. However, he said, the district has already committed money to the planning and construction of a new pool at Case.
“I think, at this point, we didn’t feel it was necessary,” Duff said. “We’re dedicating the necessary funds to get it (a new Case pool) constructed.”
The district doesn’t yet have a final cost for a new pool, as it still hasn’t determined if incorporating one into the existing building or constructing a new stand-alone structure would be most cost-effective and provide the best results for students.
Duff said the pool plan will likely go before the board later this school year.
Stacy Tapp, chief of communications and community relations for Unified, said the sports complex would be great for the community, as a whole.
“We think this is a good use of funds in a way that’s collaborative but allows us to do more than we’d be able to do on our own, to provide better facilities for our athletes and athletes across the county,”she said.
“It’s exciting to have that kind of development as a positive thing for the community,” he said. “It shows how partnerships can lead to bigger and better things and how these types of things can be an asset to the community.”
“It’s exciting to have that kind of development as a positive thing for the community. It shows how partnerships can lead to bigger and better things and how these types of things can be an asset to the community.” Marc Duff, Racine Unified chief financial officer