School Districts Welcome Increased Funding Authority

Southern Door searches for leader

Some school districts in Door County will have an increase in “funding authority” of $325 per pupil in the next two-year state budget, and others will see their funding cap grow for one year by $1,000 per pupil.

Sturgeon Bay superintendent Dan Tjernagel and business manager Jacob Holtz said they are confident that Sturgeon Bay schools will see their revenue cap expand by $1,000 per pupil in the first year after the state budget passes.

“They’re giving us an extra $1 million in revenue-limit authority,” Holtz said.

That does not mean the state is giving the district $1,000 per pupil, and it does not mean the district has the authority to collect $1 million more in local property taxes for one year. Holtz said local property taxes account for approximately two-thirds of the Sturgeon Bay school district’s annual revenue for general operations, and state equalization aid accounts for about one-third of the general operations budget.

Holtz said he will not know until the fall whether the district collecting more in total local property taxes will result in higher tax bills or tax rates. The state requires districts to pass preliminary budgets several months before the district business managers know how much revenue is actually coming in.

The Gibraltar school district most certainly will not qualify for the $1,000-per-pupil increase because of its high-value properties and the large tax base in northern Door County. Local property-tax revenue feeds almost all of Gibraltar’s general operations budget. For two years, the state will grant Gibraltar and other high-revenue districts $325 more per local student in funding authority.

Gov. Tony Evers signed the 2023-25 state budget on July 5, but he exercised veto power to ensure that every public school district would receive $325 more per pupil in funding authority each year beyond the end date of the budget, as he set the end date at year “2425.” Tjernagel said many public schools were asking for up to $1,500 in increased funding authority, and Sturgeon Bay’s first-year increase of $1,000 and second-year increase of $325 begin to approach that need.

Neither property rich nor poor, the Sevastopol school district will just barely miss out on the $1,000-per-pupil increase, according to superintendent Kyle Luedtke. Districts that had a cap of $10,000 per pupil or less are likely to qualify for the $1,000 increase, but Sevastopol’s per-pupil revenue authority came in at $11,016 this past year. 

“Sevastopol will receive $325 per residential student if the proposal is approved,” Luedtke said earlier this summer.

Southern Door district business manager Jason Melotte said that as of July 8, he was confident Southern Door will qualify for the extra $1,000 in funding authority. He said Southern Door’s tax cap was $10,000 per student, and the state will allow schools to expand the cap to $11,000 per student.

Wisconsin did not provide public schools with revenue-limit increases or cost-of-operations aid in the previous state budget, mainly because the districts had received extra federal COVID-19 relief aid. Many states continued to provide cost-of-operations increases in aid to schools, but at lower-than-normal levels when the federal relief aid rolled in.

“They’re getting [an extra] $325 per pupil each year, and then in addition to that, there is a little more money for special education, mental health, and also there’s the reading portion of it that I wrote,” said state Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) regarding education funding within the state budget.

Kitchens’ reading bill sets up $50 million in state funding for districts and Cooperative Educational Service Agencies (CESA) such as the Green Bay–based CESA 7 to provide training for teachers and to pay trainers to teach the Science of Reading strategy to teachers. Kitchens said districts or CESA 7 would need to ask for funding from the reading bill, and he was not sure whether districts could receive funding retroactively for previous training. 

Most Door County schools have already been training teachers in the Science of Reading: a strategy of teaching reading fundamentals, ranging from phonic sounds to comprehension as strands that eventually wind together and strengthen as a “reading rope.”

“Districts in our area have been kind of leaders in that, so a lot of what’s in the bill, they’re already doing,” Kitchens said.

The funding plan moving through the state legislature also included a call to increase public funding for private schools.

“The state budget is a mixed bag,” Holtz said. “There are winners and losers.”

Southern Door Works through Administrator Applications

An agenda for the July 10 Southern Door school board special meeting indicated that the board technically could hire an interim district administrator after emerging from closed session. However, board president Penny Price said the board had not yet conducted interviews.

She said the district had about nine candidates, and she hoped they could narrow the list of those to be interviewed to three or four during the July 10 executive session.

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