LUHS Budget Goes To Voters

Oct 11, 2018

Credit Nick Youngson

MINOCQUA – The addition of the two charter schools for autism students will have a big impact on this year’s Lakeland Union High School annual budget, according to the final draft proposal accepted by the school board Wednesday.

The board meeting was short, just 10 minutes and with few questions, but the board had seen much of the preliminary figures already, as this was the fourth draft prepared by finance director Greg Kopp.

The board approved the proposed budget, which now goes to the electorate at the annual meeting Tuesday, Oct. 30. The budget hearing begins at 6:30 p.m. at the school, followed by the annual meeting where voters will be asked to approve the recommended levy.

In two stages, Kopp lays out how the budget unfolds: “The 2018-19 operating budget for LUHS’s traditional education offerings reflects an operating surplus of $147,000,’ said Kopp in prepared summary notes. “Budgeted operating revenues of $16.6 million are projected to be $345,000 greater than the previous year. Operating expenses of $16.5 million are projected to be $407,000 greater than the previous year.”

Charter schools impact

However, the opening this year of the charter schools for middle school and high school students on the autism spectrum has altered the budget, as Kopp explains: “The Lakeland Star School/Academy is projected to generate $1.6 million in start-up and operating costs,” he said in those prepared remarks. “LUHS and the four elementary school districts will incur $592,000 and $359,999 of these costs, respectively.” The finance director pointed out that the governance council, which oversees the two charter schools, has raised substantial cash donations and in-kind contributions for this year’s opening and operation of the two charters. “The remaining costs will (be covered by) donations by many generous individuals made possible by the governance council of the Lakeland Star Academy. The governance council will provide $564,000 and fund any additional operating costs in excess of $1,148.000.”

A new budget model

With the charter schools’ costs factored in, the total LUHS budget will increase over the traditional education model that Kopp notes above. “The total operating expense of Lakeland Union High School is going to increase approximately $2 million over the previous year,” Kopp said afterwards. “Twenty-five percent of that increase is due primarily to inflation, increase in salaries and benefit costs, and the remainder is due to the addition of a new charter school that the school district has opened this school year. “The actual total operating expense for 2018-19 is projected to be $18,100,000,” he elaborated. “The projected levy to support that is a total of $10,900,000. That’s a reduction of about $9,000 from the previous year, and our mil rate, which last year was 1.87, will decrease down to 1.82.”

The district was able to hold the mil rate down due to an increase in state aid per student, an increase in “sparsity aid” (given to districts with large transportation costs), and the expected increase in federal aid. In addition, the district tapped its Fund 10 fund balance (reserve fund) to the tune of $300,800 to help cover those costs. The fund balance is expected to drop to $7 million by June of 2019.

The board and administration have been leery about using too much of the fund balance, as it serves as a financial bridge between the periods when the district receives various state and federal aid and property taxes. The intent is to avoid short-term borrowing, thus saving money for the taxpayers. The district expects to receive significant state reimbursement for the charters after the school year, but those costs have to be factored in this year’s budget, Kopp explained.

If approved by the electors, the tax rate for the high school will be $1.82 per $1,000 of valuation. That means that if you own a home valued at $100,000, you would pay $182 in taxes. There are, of course, other tax levies waiting in the wings, namely: your elementary school district, town, county, Nicolet College and state.