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Mequon-Thiensville faces $1 million deficit

Reduced staff, fund balance help close gap

June 19, 2012

Mequon - The Mequon-Thiensville School District could decrease the amount of its property tax levy by 0.73 percent, according to preliminary data revealed this week.

The School Board on Monday approved a tentative version of the district's 2012-13 budget of about $51 million. The board's action comes as a precursor to next month's budget hearing and annual meeting, where residents have an opportunity to vote on a recommended tax levy.

While there are a few nips and tucks to this year's budget, district officials do not anticipate making major cuts, despite the ongoing trend of declining enrollment. Gail Grieger, director of business services, attributed several factors to the stabilization in the upcoming budget. Among them: the second of a two-year salary freeze for teachers and employees' increased contributions toward health care and retirement benefits.

Student enrollment dips

In the year ahead, Grieger said projections call for a 63-student decrease in year-to-year comparisons. Because of this, Grieger said the district faces the prospect of a $1 million deficit.

The district is planning to reduce overall staffing by two full-time equivalency positions, which include teaching and support staff. The staff reductions are one of several line item reductions designed to trim $900,000 from the budget. The balance of the projected deficit is to be covered by reserves in the district's fund balance.

In many departments, the district has instituted a 5 percent spending reduction. However, there are a few exceptions. Plans call for making a few technological investments, including the purchase of Smart boards and two new laptop carts. Also, the district is planning to earmark money toward preventive maintenance.

Grieger said the proposed $37.5 million levy for 2012-13 is the maximum amount the district can impose, based on the state's revenue limit formula.

Average increase $74

While there could be variables - in part because the district encompasses two municipalities - Grieger said preliminary information indicates a tax rate of $8.89 per $1,000 of equalized value. The proposed rate is a 21-cent increase from last year's equalized tax rate of $8.68.

Since the tax rate could increase, it means residents might pay more in taxes on the school portion of the bill, even though the levy is expected to decrease.

Grieger said the owner of a home valued at $350,000 stands to pay $74 more in taxes, based on the equalized formula.

Budget-building is a nearly year-round process that begins in November. While the board has acted on a version of the 2012-13 budget and the public will weigh in on the levy next month, further refinements are anticipated as more details - including firm enrollment figures that are tallied in mid-September - become known.

"This has been a long process that we have been very deliberate and public about," Superintendent Demond Means said.

Even before the implementation of Act 10, the district took a number of cost-cutting measures to shore up the budget as declining enrollment became a prevalent trend. Custodial staffing has been a contracted function for two years. Also, the district changed its curriculum review cycle to every seven years, an increase from the previous cycle of five years.

"We do this to live within our means and manage expenses," Means said.

NEXT STEP

WHAT:Mequon-Thiensville School District's budget hearing and annual meeting; residents to vote on proposed tax levy

WHEN: 7 p.m. July 23

WHERE: Homestead High School lecture hall, 5000 W. Mequon Road

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