BOSCOBEL - Faculty and support staff at Boscobel Area School District will get a four percent pay raise this year.
After lengthy discussion, the school board unanimously approved the hike at its May 8 meeting, citing the need to stay competitive with other districts, though Boscobel’s finances are already grim due to declining enrollment.
Budget cuts, including potential layoffs or eliminated positions, will be required to make up the difference, according to Jarrett Roethke, Director of Business Services for the district.
Meanwhile in Madison, the budget process that will determine state aid for schools, is slowly moving forward, with democratic Governor Tony Evers in negotiations with republican legislators, including Senator Howard Marklein, who represents Boscobel in District 17 and also chairs the crucial Joint Finance Committee.
Some increase in state funding for public education is virtually guaranteed. But the complicated rules about where that money is spent means that Boscobel, and poorer rural districts like it, might miss out.
Raises follow inflation
Like most school districts, Boscobel ties pay increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which tracks the cost of basic goods. Averaged over the past 12 months, high inflation drove the CPI up five percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to Roethke, it’s predicted to hit eight percent by July. But giving that kind of increase would cost the district some $570,000, according to Roethke’s estimates.
“It would be great to do this, but I don’t know how realistic that is,” he told the board. “There are some districts who have done it, but I don’t know how.”
Overall budget problems
While there will likely be an increase in state aid for the school, the overall budget picture remains grim for a handful of reasons.
For one thing, the district faces an increase in the base cost of benefits, most notably a 4.5 percent increase in employee health insurance coverage, which will add $68,000 to the budget, according to Roethke’s projections.
For another, much of the aid from the state is tied to enrollment, which is declining in most districts, including Boscobel, due in part to changing demographics and in part to expanded choices for parents, including open enrollment and home schooling.
So that all the heads are counted, part- and full-time students are bundled together into “full-time equivalent” (FTE). In the past five years, Boscobel’s FTE count dropped from 818 to 742—a loss of 76 students, according to Roethke.
That might sound like a lot—but it’s not, in many cases, enough to warrant programming cuts that can keep pace with the declining revenue.
“When you have a smaller district, you still have buildings, there’s staff you have to have no matter if you’ve got a big district or a small district, right?” said board member Casey Updike. “Rural districts are really getting punished by the way the government is funding.”
More aid coming… maybe
Republicans and Democrats at the state level agree that the funding needs to increase, but they’ve failed so far to find agreement on how much. School districts, including Boscobel’s, are playing a guessing game with their budgets and trying to guess what the per-pupil aid might be.
“Will we have it by July? I would wager not,” Roethke said. “I would wager we would probably have this in August and might be later.”
In the meantime, he’s building his estimate on what he said is a conservative guess of an increase of $350 per pupil.
Sounds simple, but it’s not. Since 1993, the State of Wisconsin has kept a lid on school spending through a mechanism known as “revenue limits.” A formula based on enrollment changes, inflation, and prior year revenue determines how much each district can budget for the future.
Whether Boscobel will win or lose under the new state formula remains to be seen. In the projections that Roethke showed the board, the increase in state funding would actually decrease Boscobel’s spending ability—a combination of declining enrollment and revenue limit rules would wipe out any gains from the per-pupil increase.
“Just based on the revenue we had this year, we are already $102,630 short, to start,” explained Roethke. “Think of it as, we we’re going to have less revenue, but we’re going to have more expenses.”
In spite of these budget pressures, the district faces the same tight labor market as any other industry. And with other districts approving raises of 5 to 8 percent, board members felt pressure to act.
“We’re in a tough position because we want to maintain good quality teachers and pay that fair competitive wage. Yet we only have what we have,” said Updike.
“It’s extremely important to keep competitive wages so we don’t lose teachers, but we also have to remember that this number is now going to be moving forward into the future. Because you’re not going to be scaling back. And with declining enrollment, how are we going to offset those costs?” he asked.
Roethke told the board that he and District Administrator Lisa Wallin-Kapinus had already begun a system-wide analysis seeking cost savings. They are finding some success; for example, canceling under-utilized software subscriptions.
Ultimately, however, each employee costs the district somewhere between $80,000 and $100,000 annually, including benefits, and overall, labor accounts for about 80 percent of the total budget. And again, no matter how many students attend, some costs remain the same.
“You can’t get skinny on gas for buses, right? Because it is what it is,” Roethke said. “You can’t get skinny on the food you buy. You can’t get skinny on heat or electric,” he said. “These are the third rail for this school district.”
In other matters, the board took the following actions:
• Reappointed its existing officers, including President Todd Miller, Vice President Wendi Stitzer, Treasurer Casey Updike, and Clerk Kaye Woodke.
• Approved Bus Purchase- 2023 Blue Bird Price: $ 116,180
• Approved Elementary Branding Floor Mats- Estimate $6,609.00
• Approved Replacement Bus Garage and other Overhead Door (7 total)- $25,898.82
• Approved Contracts for Technology with CM Consultants, CESA 3 Services, PRA- Plunkett Raysich Architects, and the SWCAP Head Start Space Agreement
• Reappointed Wendi Stitzer CESA 3 Representative
• Acknowledged gifts and donations from the community, including approximately 20 for the Elementary Wellness Fair and about 50 for prom.
• Approved retirements of Kathy Bray, MS/HS Secretary and Sue Weigel, Food Service, and the resignations of Amy Strong, Social Studies; Shelly Biggin, MS Math; Kyle Trevorrow, PE; Sarah Miles, Elementary Secretary; and Colin McBride, Custodial
• Approved Assistant Principal/Activities Director, Edwin Boneske; HS Math Teacher, Treighton Hoang; Forensics Head Coach, Shaeden Carlin; Assistant Track Coach, Randa Bell; Jayce Zimpel, Substitute Teacher