Storch says no plan to pay debt early when school referendum was presented

By Brian Roebke
Business Manager Dan Storch gave the board of education and the audience a report at the May meeting of the Wrightstown Community School District, including a review of the budget forming process following the public comment period that was detailed in last week’s newspaper when 10 people voiced displeasure of their taxes compared to just one in support.
In response to whether debt defeasance of the 2020 referendum liability — which is where most of the additional tax money has gone — is a good idea, Storch explained the long-term benefit.
“We’re reducing the liability of that referendum,” he said.
He said the total payments from the referendum were to be around $33 million, and the district is now down to $31.5 million on the project, meaning the entire cost of the project is now $1.5 million less than what he could have, should the district have paid it over 20 years.
The district also gets student aid from the state on the amount of the defeasance, making it less money that local taxpayers need to cover.
Board member Jeff Nelson noted there is evidence this happened last year and this maneuver will help the district every year until the debt is paid.
Storch said there was not a plan to pay the debt early when the referendum was presented.
“It was not a master plan, it was not a bait and switch,” he said. “We had a finance plan for this much, approved it, we got a good rate, and then we update our financial goals every year and when this becomes an option, it makes sense.”
While it makes sense for the school district, some taxpayers who received larger tax bills the past few years since the referendum was approved in April 2020 do not think it makes sense for them.
Storch noted the state sets a limit of the amount of money a district can raise through state aid and local property taxes.
Ultimately, that limit is set by the state’s biennial budget, which is not yet passed for the next two years in Madison. The state constitution says that must be passed by June 30, but sometimes the legislature doesn’t meet that deadline, particularly when one political party controls the legislature and another controls the governor’s office.
“If we don’t (have an approved budget) we’re making some critical decisions without knowing how much revenue we have,” Storch said. “If we’re in the second year of that budget we know a lot more about what our variables are,” he said. “Coming into the first year of a budget it’s up in the air.”
The basic formula is the revenue limit minus state aid can be supplemented by property taxes. School districts do not always tax the maximum amount allowed.
The three main variables are the number of students enrolled, how much money the state is offering, and what the equalized property values are.
Those values help the school district determine the mill rate.
There are many technicalities in the process that make it difficult for even schools to understand, much to their dismay.
One of those is that school districts are legally required to use equalized property values, whereas municipalities use assessed property value.
Storch said there’s a time during each year when they are reporting and auditing on one budget, operating under one budget, and preparing for the next budget.
Another variable is the fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30 each year, while the tax year runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.
In October, school districts know their variables that allow them to bring a final budget to the board of education for approval.
The district’s annual meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 6 p.m. this coming year.
That’s when taxpayers get a say — but not a vote — on their opinions on the budget.
Storch said Section 65.90(4) of Wisconsin State Statute requires that “any resident or taxpayer of the governmental unit shall have an opportunity to be heard on the proposed budget” at the budget hearing. However, in construing this statute, the attorney general has held that the governing body cannot be compelled to make changes suggested by citizens at the hearing on the proposed budget. The intent of the statute is to provide for an expression of public opinion but to leave the school board free to act at a future meeting as it determines to be in the public interest. Accordingly, the electors at the budget hearing do not have the power to amend the budget as proposed, nor to approve or disapprove such budget.
Other action
The board approved the addition of a half-time 4K teacher for this fall.
The district’s goal is 15-17 students per class but they’ve averaged above that for the past six years.
There are currently at 20 students per class section.
“This year we really put a push to get out information earlier to our families to start registering earlier, know that to have the class sizes we want, we have to make those class sizes earlier,” Elementary Principal Sarah Nelson told the board.
Normally the district adds 14-18 students from May through August. There are currently 61 students enrolled in 4K that puts classrooms at 18 students already.
“If we had no more enrollments after May 10 we would already be above our class range that we want,” Nelson said.
The board also approved 28 open enrollment applications to attend Wrightstown schools. Half of those come by board policy and the other half are because of space available, largely due to the addition at the elementary school. The board also denied 14 applications due to space not available.
The district had 45 apply to come in, while only 10 applied to leave.
The largest group of new students is coming in 4K, where 11 newcomers are being accepted.
The board members held their annual officer election.
Incumbent President Nicole Gerend defeated Angela Hansen Winker 5-2. For vice president, incumbent Tiffany Van Vreede beat Nelson 4-3. The position of treasurer was open, and Hansen Winker defeated Maggie Boland 4-3. For clerk, incumbent Boland defeated Jeff Nelson 4-3.
Personnel report
Connor Edwards, Middle School Teacher
Jessica Pennenberg, High School Math Teacher
Melissa Jodar, Middle School ELA
Jill Peck, Middle School Special Ed. paraprofessional
Julie Paulson, Elementary School Special Ed. Parapro-fessional