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January 5, 2007

Local School Budget Tea Leaves

The Madison School Board Communication Committee's upcoming meeting includes an interesting 2007-2009 legislative agenda for state education finance changes that would increase District annual spending (current budget is $333,000,000) at a higher than normal rate (typically in the 3.8% range):

4. 2007-09 Legislative Agenda

a. Work to create a school finance system that defines that resources are necessary to provide students with a "sound basic education." Using Wisconsin's Academic Standards (which is the standard of achievement set by the Legislature), coupled with proven research that lays out what is necessary to achieve those standards, will more clearly define what programs and services are required for students to attain success.

b. Support thorough legislative review of Wisconsin's tax system; examining all taxing.

c. Provide revenue limit relief to school districts for uncontrollable costs (utilities, transportation). [ed: This shifts the risk to local property taxpayers, which has its pros and cons. The definition of "uncontrollable" would be interesting to read.]

d. Allow a local board of education to exceed the revenue limits by up to 2% of the district's total budget without having to go to referendum. [ed: $6,660,000 above the typical 3.8% annual spending growth: $333,000,000 2006/2007 budget + 3.8% (12,654,000) + 2% (6,660,000) = $19,314,000 increase, or 5.8%]

e. Allow school districts to exceed the revenue limits for security-related expenses by up to $100 per pupil enrolled in the district. [ed: about $2,400,000]

f. Modify the school aid formula so negative tertiary school district (Madison) taxpayers aren't penalized when the district borrows. (Madison Schools' taxpayers have to pay $1.61 for every dollar borrowed.) [ed: This will cost other districts money]

g. Improve Medicaid reimbursement from state to school districts (current law allows the state to "skim" 40% of the federal Medicaid reimbursement dollars for school-based services).

h. Support state aid reimbursement for 4-year old kindergarten programs, similar to the reimbursement for 4-year old kindergarten in Milwaukee choice and charter schools.

i. Support increasing state aid for public school transportation costs.

j. Support allowing a declining enrollment school district to use the highest enrollment in a 5-year period for purposes of calculating its revenue limit. [ed: I wonder if the MMSD perceives itself as a growing or declining district, given the attendance projections used to support new schools over the past several years? Perhaps this item is the answer? The current state funding scheme rewards growing districts. Barb Schrank noted the enrollment changes in surrounding districts last fall.]

k. Support additional resources for mandated special education and English as a Second Language programs, currently reimbursed at 28% and 12%, respectively (when revenue limits began, the reimbursement was 45% and 33% respectively).

l. Maintain current law for disbursement of resources from the Common School Fund for public school libraries.

m. Support increase in per meal reimbursement for school breakfast programs.

There are some good ideas here, including a thorough review of Wisconsin's tax system. Many of these items, if enabled by the state, would result in higher property taxes (Wisconsin is #1 in property taxes as a percentage of the home's value) for those living in the Madison School District. Any of these changes would likely help address the District's $5.9M structural deficit.

I trust that there are some additional budget scenarios in play rather than simply hoping the state will change school finance to help the Madison School District (unlikely, given several recent conversations with state political players). Madison already spends 23% more per student than the state average.


  • A 5 Year Approach to the Madison School District's Budget Challenges; or what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year?
  • 2007/2008 Madison School District Budget Outlook: Half Empty or Half Full?
  • Budget notes and links
  • Sarah Kidd's historical charts on District staffing, attendance and spending.
  • Italian Minister of Economy & Finance Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa:
    I now come to the last and conclusive theme of my argument. Controlling expenditure always has to balance technical arguments and constraints, with the legitimate and competing claims (often drawing on very different ideological Weltanschauungen) on the resources managed, directly and indirectly, through the political processes. Balancing the two elements is a difficult exercise, as I experience on a daily basis.

    Political economists have blamed the difficulty on the fact that the time-horizon of a typical political cycle is shorter than the one relevant on average for the society as a whole, in turn leading the legislature to attribute a smaller weight to the long-run implications of public expenditure policies than it would be socially desirable. Empirical evidence shows that discretionary public expenditure tends to rise before the elections irrespective of the political orientation of the incumbent government, and also in spite of the weak evidence of a relation between the size of pre-election spending and the election outcomes. The politicians’ short horizons and the long lag between reforms and their beneficial effects gives rise to a pervasive tension in expenditure control.

    For Faust, the lure of Mephistopheles’ services is greatly enhanced by the fact that the price – albeit a terrible one – is to be paid later. For politicians, the lure of the support obtained through public expenditure is similarly enhanced by the fact that public debt will be paid (o reneged) by next generations, often well after the end of one’s political career. As to myself, having inherited a public debt larger than GDP, and having committed myself and my government to comply with sound fiscal principles, I scarcely can afford even to contemplate the possibility of accepting Mephistopheles’ services.

Tea Leaves.

Update: I recently learned that the MMSD's Joe Quick wrote this list, which was not voted on by the Madison School Board.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at January 5, 2007 12:20 PM
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