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West Allis school district's budget and levy dips

Nov. 15, 2011

West Allis - With no one speaking at the public hearing on the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District proposed budget for 2011-12, the School Board approved the spending plan that calls for a 0.19 percent drop in the property tax levy for 2012.

The total budget for the 2011-12 school year of about $108.5 million is 3.4 percent less than last year. The general fund, which makes up most of the operating budget, is down even more, standing at 4.3 percent less than the previous year.

The budget contains no layoffs and offers 1 percent pay increases. Teachers making less than $45,000 last year would get a little more than 1 percent.

Against that small increase, teachers will pay more toward health insurance and retirement, resulting in take-home pay that's 11 to 14 percent less. The resulting savings to the district was the only way to avoid massive layoffs, officials said, and the teachers' union overwhelmingly agreed by approving a memorandum of understanding.

"We had wonderful cooperation and professionalism from our staff," said Deb Rouse, director of business services. "They understood our difficult situation."

Legislative impact on gap

That difficult situation was a financial bind stemming from the state Legislature clamping on tighter revenue and reducing state aid to schools.

In West Allis-West Milwaukee, the combination of the revenue cap and lower state aid opened up a $9.5 million gap between expenses and revenues. But the Legislature also gave schools the ability to give whatever raises they wanted, or none at all, to require higher payments toward health and retirement, and to institute health insurance programs with higher out of pocket costs - all without having to negotiate with employee unions.

Those so-called tools helped West Allis close the revenue gap halfway, Rouse said.

The primary way the rest of the gap was closed was by being able to hire new teachers at lower salaries to replace retired teachers, she said.

Originally, officials thought they would need to accept 100 more nonresident students through the state Open Enrollment program to generate revenue. But Rouse said that will not be necessary.

What wasn't cut

The board was able to avoid any program or activity reductions.

One of those programs provides health insurance to School Board members who served prior to 2000. Only two current board members and one who retired from the board still qualify for the coverage.

Some critics say that should end, noting that many taxpayers have lost their health insurance because of the poor economy. And the district could use the $40,000 cost for something else.

Fully paid health insurance for board members was offered when health insurance was less expensive. But as insurance costs rose, the board did away with that benefit more than a decade ago.

However, the board allowed members who already had the fully paid health insurance as of 2000 to keep it while on the board and to pay half the premiums after they left.

School Board President Sue Stalewski, who does not receive the free health insurance, summed up why the board feels that benefit should be maintained.

"In 1997, the Board of Education made a conscious decision to end health insurance benefits for elected officials," Stalewski said. "But it did determine that vested board members would maintain that benefit for the time they remained on the board.

"As long as those individuals remain on the board, they will be entitled to that benefit. As a district, we have been respectful of all of our employees and members in terms of their length of service and accrued benefits."

Years ago, it was common for officials to get free health insurance coverage, she said. And West Allis-West Milwaukee, like other districts did away with it.

AT A GLANCE

2011-12 budget: $108,479,793, down 3.8 percent

2010-11 budget: $112,303,326

General fund budget: $91,468,740, down 4.3 percent from the previous year's $95,744,247

2011-12 levy: $46,344,013, down 0.19 percent from the previous year's levy of $46,430,213

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