By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico School district recently learned the amount of state aid that will be contributed to the 2018-19 school year budget.
The Wisconsin Department of Instruction announced HSSD will receive approximatley $34.5 million from the state, an increase of nearly $500,000.
The money comes as equalization aid, and makes up roughly one-third of the budget, with the majority of the other two-thirds coming from the tax levy.
“We’re heavily aided because we have low property values per student, so the more aid you get per member is directly correlated to having lower property value per student,” said Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations. “The less aid that you get means you have higher property value per student, because when you do a levy you get more bang for your dollar.”
In the HSSD, Spets said the taxable value per student is roughly $430,000. Districts close to the top with higher property values might see close $10 million per student.
The school funding formula in Wisconsin provides districts state aid based on property value and enrollment.
Districts with more taxable value receive less state aid because they are able to make up the difference with the tax levy.
“(The formula) attributes financial assistance to school districts to reduce the reliance upon local property tax and to guarantee a basic educational opportunity is available for all kids,” Spets said. “That’s what it’s intended to do.”
Spet said the roughly $500,000 boost from the state means more stability for the district.
With the recent passage of the referendum and the increase, the district has a dual layer of protection to keep its commitment to taxpayers, Spets said.
When the referendum passed, the district was allowed to exceed the revenue cap. Spets said it is able to do this without increasing the tax rate of $9.19 per $1,000 of home value, due to paying down debt early and creative book keeping.
“Our pie grew and there’s a new slice and it’s the referendum,” he said. “Now that slice will be smaller this year because of that increase in aid, and we want to maintain our commitment to the taxpayers.”
School districts are also funded through what is called categorical aid. It makes up a small percentage of the total budget, and does not affect the equalization aid, but categorical aid for HSSD is projected at more than $3 million for the upcoming school year due to $654 per student for categorical aid.
“It works like a bonus,” Spets said. “If the district was an employee of a company, what basically happened was our salary was frozen years ago, no cost of living adjustment, no raise, you’re stuck for seven, eight years and then you get this per-pupil categorical aid. It’s almost like a bonus.”
Other districts across the state may get more in categorical aid for things like high levels of poverty or students sparsely spread across districts. But for the HSSD it only receives the $654 per student.
The downside to the categorical aide is the money is not guaranteed each year and it doesn’t affect the portion of the funding formula that relies on the tax levy, Spets said.
When categorical aid increases, it does not affect what people pay in taxes.
School districts in areas with higher property values end up with little to no equalization aid from the state. This means the funding comes from the tax levy, Spets said.
One example is the Northland Pines School District in Eagle River. According to DPI, the district will receive $44,000 in state aid for 20-18-19. This is due to a chain of lakes in the area where million-dollar homes dot the shoreline, Spets said.
Because those homes are worth more, the district is able to fund itself through the tax levy instead of requiring state aid to make up the gap, he said.
If the HSSD was to fund schools without state aid, the taxpayers could expect their bills to roughly triple, Spets said.
Even though homes in Howard-Suamico stay on the market for only a few days they are not million-dollar estates. A good quality of life in the area doesn’t translate to more funding from the state.
In order for the district to receive less funding from the state, Spets said the area would need to see an influx of development outside of residential.
“In Howard-Suamico we would need an investment from industry or commercial because a pristine private chain of lakes isn’t going to just appear,” Spets said.
In October, DPI will finalize the equalization aid the district receives.