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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo School Budget Down, Tax Rate Up 5 Cents Per $1,000

Issue Date: October 31, 2019

Only Peshtigo School Board members and two members of the administrative team turned out for the Peshtigo School District's annual meeting and budget hearing on Monday, Oct. 28. Before adjourning the board adopted the 2019-2020 budget of $13,266,267, down slightly from last year's $13,292,152.86, and approved a Fund 10 tax levy of $2,879,989 and a Debt Retirement levy of $574,100 to support them, for a total of $3,454,089. This results in a school property tax rate of $8.20 per $1,000, up five cents from last year's rate of $8.15 per $1,000.

They authorized short-term borrowing of up to $2.5 million from Peshtigo National Bank if necessary to meet operating expenses due to delayed state aid payments owed to the district.

In more ordinary business, the board approved hiring of Hope Matthews as Middle School track coach and accepted three donations of $1,400 each toward purchase of a practice batting cage for the multi-purpose room. One of the donations was from Peshtigo Youth Baseball, and the other two were from the Peshtigo Bulldog Boosters. One of the two was on behalf of Peshtigo Girls Softball and the other simply from the Peshtigo Bulldog Boosters.

At the start of the rapid-fire series of meetings that began at 6 p.m. and ended just 23 minutes later, District Administrator Patrick Rau laid out ground rules for the budget hearing and presented highlights of the proposed budget. Board Vice President Steve Coble was elected to chair the meeting in the absence of Board President Rebeca DeMarce. Board Member Joshua Seefeldt was also absent.

Others present were Rau, High School Principal Chad Sodini, Administrative Assistant Betsy Wickman, Finance Director Sarah Swanson and board members Mike Fifarek, Gary Larsen, Kelly Jones, Mariel Carter, Mike Finger, and Jenni Schwittay.

In his budget presentation, Rau thanked Swanson for doing an excellent job on preparing the budget and in fact an excellent job year round.

He noted the total $3,454,089 tax levy includes money for both general operations and debt repayment, including some additional money to prepay portions of the remaining debt for the Peshtigo Elementary Learning Center addition.

To a question from Carter, Rau explained that some of the $574,000 budgeted for debt retirement will be set aside as pre-payment for bonds that will be callable in the next year or two, and by doing it this way they can repay the bonds while keeping the tax rate stable.

A 2.1 percent increase in district equalized property values helped keep the tax rate down.

The district is in the midst of a significant decline in the number of resident students, Rau said. In all of 2015 the district had 1,093 resident students, Currently the count is 979, a decrease of 114 students. "This is an area of concern as our revenue is based on the number of students in our membership," Rau pointed out. He added this decline may be leveling off, as this year's graduating class is relatively small and there may be a better balance with the number of students coming in.

Rau noted that through open enrollment the district will generate an additional $1.04 million in revenue, which he said is crucial for the financial health of the district as the resident enrollment declines. "The District's philosophy toward open enrollment generates revenue for the district with little additional expense as open enrollment students fill open seats in our current classrooms." Rau said the number of "voucher" students also increased this year, with a resulting increase in those payments.

Charts in the Budget hearing book showed Peshtigo's cost per student is well below the state average and among the lowest in this area.

Fund 46 was established several years ago under a state law that allows districts to set aside surplus budget dollars from previous fiscal years to finance future capital projects."This is critical as it allows the district to maximize its state aid and offset property taxes while creating a funding source for expensive projects such as HVAC, roofs, windows, lighting, parking lots, etc. Peshtigo's current Fund 46 balance is $1.9 million, Rau said. There are no plans to take money from the fund this year, but they may start spending from it next year for capital projects, Rau noted.

Food service will end with a healthy fund balance, which Rau said is good because there is some aging equipment that may need to be replaced in the near future.

In addition to approving the budget, unanimous votes at the annual meeting approved resolutions authorizing payment of actual and necessary expenses for board members when traveling outside the district in performance of board duties and reimbursement of mileage at the current federal rate; temporary borrowing by the board if needed for immediate operating expenses; sale or disposal of any property, excluding real estate, that is no longer needed for school purposes; providing breakfast, lunch and milk to any or all students, and pay any deficiencies that may result; furnish supplies, materials and other resources for students; provide for prosecution or defense of legal actions or proceedings, and authorized the board to govern over issues not specified in accord with proper procedures and laws.

Next year's Annual Meeting and Budget Hearing were approved to begin at 6 p.m. on Oct. 26, 2020.


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