Muskego - With a specter of a 5 percent levy jump threatening this spring, the latest news that next year's school levy could be a zero percent increase was a relief to Muskego-Norway School District officials.
"I think this is really good news," said Scot Ecker, business manager, who said the main reason is higher than expected state aid.
Although the $18.1 million in aid will be $200,000 lower than the district got last year, it will not be the $1.5 million decrease that officials had feared in April, Ecker said.
At that time, the School Board was looking at a potential 5 percent property tax levy increase. To bring that down to a 3 percent increase, the board dropped two teaching positions and cut the budget for each school by 5 percent.
But with a better financial picture taking shape, the board tended to favor bringing those two teaching positions back, if the need arises. But there was reluctance Monday to restore building budgets, as staff recommends.
The levy would be unchanged with restoring both the teaching positions and the building budgets.
But School Board member Dean Strom said he wonders how frugal the schools are after receiving in the mail a packet an inch thick of student information.
The information was printed just on one side instead of two, wasting both paper and postage that adds up to a large sum of money when mailed to hundreds of students, Strom said.
Based on that he said that if he did some digging, "I'm sure I could find room for improvements."
The schools seem to be doing fine and perhaps could use some forced belt-tightening, he said.
"I share Dean's concerns," said board member Lisa Warwick.
Ecker said that the building budgets have been frozen for years and were actually cut two years ago.
Superintendent Kelly Thompson offered to start a dialogue with principals to come up with a standard of sound stewardship.
Restoring the building budgets is in the current budget proposal but it might again face opposition when the board votes on the proposed budget Aug. 20. Then the 2012-13 spending plan will go to the district annual meeting Oct. 29.
To make the board aware of all its options, Ecker said it's his duty to provide information on how raising the tax levy might help meet two recurring themes heard from residents.
"Two themes I heard during the past four years of facilities discussions, community listening sessions and through survey feedback echoed planning," he wrote in a memo to the board. "One theme seemed to be, 'pay off some current debt before taking on new debt,' and another was 'live within your means.' "
Extra dollars from raising the levy could be used for the building facility needs that drove two failed referendums or to pay off current debt earlier, he wrote.
If the levy were increased 1 percent, the district would have $3.3 million in 10 years for facilities, he wrote. An increase of 3 percent would yield nearly $1 million the first year and nearly $10 million in 10 years.
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