School districts plan for budget with state aid estimates

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction releases state funding estimates for 2016/2017 year

School is out for the summer, but school districts are busy at work figuring out this year’s budget. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released their state funding estimates for the 2016/2017 year earlier this month.

According to the report, the state is providing a total of almost $120 million to schools this year over last, and about $2.7 million of that is expected to end up in La Crosse County.

The five school districts in La Crosse County, Bangor, Holmen, La Crosse, Onalaska, and West Salem could all receive more state aid than last year, according to the estimates.

Bangor’s predicted funding is up 2.18 percent from last year, Holmen is up 3.11 percent, La Crosse is up 2.12 percent and West Salem is up 1.61 percent.

At 7.26 percent, Onalaska school district came out with the biggest projected increase with almost $1 million over last year.

The district’s finance and business services director Kent Ellickson said he wasn’t surprised by the numbers.

“It comes down to numbers of students,” he said. “In this past year, we added about 30 resident students. In addition, we added 14 students to the statewide voucher program.”

Ellickson said state aid is just part of the schools’ funding.

“What the state aid tells us is what portion of the total funding the state is going to share in the upcoming year.” He said if the state increases funding for the district, the amount paid from taxes goes down.

“It’s a simple algebraic equation,” he said.

La Crosse School District Superintendent Randy Nelson said seeing an increase in state funding is a good thing, in general.

“It’s the best thing for the taxpayers because as the state increases their contribution of general aid, it would generally mean local tax assessment goes down the same amount,” he said.

Nelson said that the formula for state funding estimates is complicated.

“It’s a two page spreadsheet with 30 to 40 different variables inside, very complex,” he said.

Nelson said although July 1 is the beginning of the fiscal year, it’s just the beginning of a long budgeting process with the arrival of state funding estimates.

“It seems like a lot of money, but when you talk about putting it into a larger $100 million budget. It’s a small piece of that. It’s an important piece, but a small piece” he said. “And it’s very likely to change by the time we get to approve a final budget.”

Schools won’t know how much money they’re actually receiving until October.