By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

A preliminary 2020-21 budget of $26.68 million is in place as the new school year gets underway in the Whitewater Unified School District, but further tweaks could be necessary in the months ahead as enrollment figures come into sharper focus.

The WUSD School Board formally approved the district’s revenue and expense plan for the upcoming year at its regular monthly meeting Aug. 24. The motion came on the heels of a public hearing, where no one spoke for or against the financial document.

During discussions between the board and WUSD administrators, the topic of open enrollment cropped up. Under state statute, parents can enroll their children into another school district, if the entity has seats available within a classroom.

In more recent years, open enrollment provisions in Wisconsin have evolved, with a regular window months before the start of the school year, as well as an alternative method that can occur up to the start of it.

Business Manager Matthew Sylvester-Knudtson said open enrollment figures are in flux as the countdown to the start of the new school year begins. Sylvester-Knudtson and other district officials cited the various teaching models amid COVID-19 precautions as a likely reason.

“That is a huge variable this year,” Sylvester-Knudtson said when asked by a board member about the state of open enrollment this year. “We had a significant number of open enrollment applications out, so students who reside in our boundaries who want to attend a different school.”

But Lanora Heim, director of pupil services, said the open enrollment applications do not necessarily mean all of the students will be leaving WUSD and attending elsewhere.

“We have had many students opt out and then come back,” Heim said. “It’s really hard to predict.”

Neither Sylvester-Knudtson nor Heim could zero in on a specific number of students who have applied to attend elsewhere, although they speculated the number was beyond 100.

“We won’t know the final numbers until third Friday,” Sylvester-Knudtson said, referring to an official tally that will be taken Sept. 18 and reported to the state Department of Public Instruction to determine how much WUSD ultimately will receive in state aid.

In his comb-through of the budget, Sylvester-Knudtson touched on the state of the district’s fund balance, which is a portion of the budget set aside for reserve expenses. The reservoir, he said, is at $5.2 million, or 18.5 percent of the overall budget.

The School Board has in place a policy stating WUSD’s fund balance should be at or beyond 20 percent, meaning this year’s figure falls below the threshold.

But Sylvester-Knudtson offered up a caveat — this year’s budget is balanced, with revenues and expenses squaring up evenly. In other words, fund balance is not being tapped to bring the two sides of the ledger in line with one another.

The district’s proposed property tax levy is $12.98 million, representing an uptick from the 2019-20 school year levy of $12.93 million.

The School Board will certify the levy, and make any necessary adjustments to the budget, in October as all lingering pieces of the puzzle are made available.

 

 
 

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