This is an email from Superintendent Joe Zydowsky sent to SDMA families and staff on October 4th. It can also be found on the SDMA website.
The month of October is always an important month for the school board and the School District of the Menomonie Area (SDMA) budget process. By the end of the month, the school board will approve the budget for the 2023-24 school year, set this year's tax levy, and begin to shift planning toward the future.
As previously shared, the school district will be facing financial challenges in future years. Everyone in the SDMA has worked hard to stretch pandemic funding as far as possible to help balance the district's budget, but since that funding is no longer available after this year, the SDMA will be facing some significant budget deficits in 2024-25 and beyond.
Since 1993, school funding in Wisconsin has been mostly controlled by state-imposed revenue limits that cap the amount of state aid and tax revenue that schools can receive each year. The state froze school revenue limits during the past two years, and the revenue limit increases in the new state budget are not enough to replace federal pandemic funding and account for historically high inflation. It is estimated that the SDMA would have $1,247 more for each student during the 2023-24 school year if the state would have indexed our local revenue limit to inflation. With approximately 3,300 students, the school district's revenue limit will be trailing inflation by $4.2 million.
In addition to concerns about inflation, funding for our schools in the SDMA has been well below the state average for several years, and it continues to fall further behind the districts with higher per pupil revenue limits and passed referendums. A referendum allows school districts to get permission from voters to exceed the state revenue limit and generate more funding through increased state aid and the local tax levy. There have already been 877 operating referendums passed by Wisconsin school districts since 1993, which include local districts such as Eau Claire (1999, 2007, 2016), Durand (2012), Elmwood (2007), Hudson (2001), River Falls (1998), and Spring Valley (2016). It is estimated that revenue to operate schools in the SDMA would be $5.5 million higher in 2023-24 if our local per student revenue limit was at the state average.
With budget deficits on the horizon, the SDMA school board will be faced with a funding crossroads for 2024-25 that will require additional revenue or significant budget cuts. Since our schools already run on a tight budget, cuts would result in a reduction of programs, staff, services, and opportunities for kids. Some important capital purchases and maintenance projects would need to be deferred, and it is possible that the district might need to consider closing some of our schools.
In an attempt to avoid major budget cuts, the school board has been discussing the possibility of an operating referendum in the SDMA to allow the district to exceed the state-imposed revenue limit. Over the next several weeks, the school board will be reviewing budget projections and soliciting input from the community about a possible referendum in early 2024. A survey from the educational research firm, School Perceptions, Inc., will be sent to district residents during the week of October 16, and the results will be reported to the school board in November.
For more information about funding in the SDMA and the possibility of an upcoming referendum, please refer to the SDMA Referendum Guide (also available on the homepage of the district website in Hmong and Spanish). If you have any questions about this information, please contact me or School Board President Rachel Henderson.