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Wauwatosa school budget to increase levy 6.1%

Drop in state aid, two-year special collection drive rate up

Oct. 24, 2012

The Wauwatosa School Board approved a tax levy increase of 6.1 percent at its meeting this week.

The hike was propelled by a drop in state school aid and a temporary, two-year increase in collections to reimburse the district after it was forced to pay back taxes that the city had collected in error.

The levy rate based on equalized values will rise from $8.53 per $1,000 of valuation in 2011 to $9.05 in the 2012 budget. For the owner of a house valued at $250,000, the school portion of a property tax bill is estimated to rise from $2,133 in last year's budget to $2,263 in the new budget, an increase of $130.

The total levy will rise to $45.31 million for the school year, up from $42.70 million in 2011. The levy represents just more than half of total net expenditures in the total district budget, put at $82.89 million for the 2012-2013 school year. The budget includes the Recreation Department, which is part of the district.

The final approval of the budget amounts to a revision of an estimated budget approved in June, before the school year starts. Some factors are not known when the earlier budget is worked out, including the exact amount the district will receive from the state. That figure dropped 4.9 percent from last year to this, necessitating an increase in property tax collections of 3.57 percent.

A special, two-year property tax of a little more than 2.5 percent is added to the 3.57 percent to pay the district back for about $2 million it paid the city earlier this year after the city, for years, erroneously collected taxes on behalf of the school district and other entities from the Wheaton Franciscan health center at 201 N. Mayfair Road. In a state Supreme Court case, the health center was ruled a nonprofit and therefore tax exempt and entitled to a refund.

The budget includes a loss of 5.52 full-time equivalent teaching positions, for a total teaching staff of 551, serving a student population of 7,285, a number that's little changed since 2009-2010.

"What do we get for $80 million?" asked Superintendent Phil Ertl, when the financial presentation was done.

Ertl listed a number of initiatives, including an extra period of literacy instruction at the middle school level; a middle school STEM program at Longfellow and Whitman middle schools; increased summer school opportunities; sixth-grade Spanish at both middle schools; continued increase in the number of advanced placement course offerings, which serve an increasing number of students; and continued math and literacy coaching, among many other things.

Ongoing projects include revamping the science curriculum, technology upgrades in the district, continued opportunities for online classes, a proposed online charter school, and improved school facilities and athletic fields, to select a few things.

"We have no significant increase in class sizes or teacher load this year," Ertl said. Eighty percent of the budget pays "for people," salaries and benefits, Ertl said.

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