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West Allis schools have smaller budget, but bigger lessons in store

District's finances benefit from unexpected gains in state aid and grants

Sept. 3, 2013

West Allis — For the second year in a row, the property tax levy for the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District would decrease significantly under the proposed 2013-14 school budget.

The proposed levy would be 2.69 percent less than last year's final levy, which itself dipped 3.44 percent from the year before. The levy also went down the year before that, but by a smaller 0.19 percent.

The School Board last week cleared the proposed budget to be presented at a public hearing, set for 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at the school administration building, 1205 S. 70th St.

Better off now

The proposed levy of nearly $43.5 million would support a proposed budget of more than $114.3 million. That is an estimated $525,289 less than the district spent last year.

"I have to commend the superintendent," said School Board President Pat Kerhin, who called the levy decrease a remarkable accomplishment.

Similarly, board member Darlene Ziemendorf said, "I'm very pleased. The first outcomes were looking pretty dim with the governor's budget and all the cuts he made."

But since those earlier days, crucial state aid was not cut as much as local school district officials feared.

"I'm pleased that in spite of tough budget times, we got a decent amount of state aid to keep our programs going," Kerhin said.

Grant gains

Another big help is additional grants the district has landed, Ziemendorf said.

She paid tribute to the district's grant writer, some of whose work became tangible over the summer when the new synthetic turf was installed on the football/soccer field at the district sports complex.

The field badly needed help, Ziemendorf said, and the district landed a grant from the National Football League and the Green Bay Packers that went a long way toward making a new field happen.

West Allis-West Milwaukee also got a $550,000 grant for its after-school programs.

School officials had expected only $350,000, said Superintendent Kurt Wachholz. The additional $200,000 in grant money will strengthen the elementary and intermediate school after school programs.

Instructional hike

While the district would spend less overall for the current school year, it would spend $1.3 million more on actual operations, consisting mainly of instruction. A main reason the schools can devote more resources to its general fund this year is that debt service fell nearly $1.7 million in 2013-14.

The proposed operations increase will support the growth of the Next Generation Learning program at the intermediate schools and its entrance into the high schools. The personalized learning program has been seen as a model for other school districts.

Along with the growth of Next Generation Learning, the schools will continue getting Apple iPads, a popular tablet computer that area districts are incorporating into classrooms, into the hands of students, Kerhin said.

Career minded

The proposed 2013-14 budget also is a watermark in the schools' efforts to help students find and get ready for careers.

The schools have hired a career and technical education director, who will help all students leave high school with something that will either help them get into colleges or find jobs. Certificates showing that they have gained certain skills will be key to helping non-college-bound students find jobs.

He also will work on getting students ready for work whether they are headed for college or not. Soon, all Wisconsin students will take the WorkKeys assessments to measure real-world skills employers believe are critical to job success. WorkKeys assessments were developed by the same organization that does the ACT college entrance examinations.

"We want a bridge to the community," Kerhin said. "So we can have more career fairs and help kids know their path."

AT A GLANCE

Proposed 2013-14 budget — $114,315,438

2012-13 estimated actual spending — $114,840,727

Change — down $525,289

Proposed 2013-14 levy — $43,547,145

2012-13 levy — $44,750,341

Levy change — down 2.69 percent

Proposed 2013-14 general fund (operating) — $97,661,625

2012-13 general fund estimated actual — $95,341,538

Change — up $1,319,987

2013-14 debt service — $2,797,051

2012-13 debt service — $4,474,537

Change — down $1,677,486

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