Board approves Whitewater’s 2022-23 budget

      While there are still several lingering loose ends that need to be tied up, Whitewater Unified School District officials have set in motion a financial operating plan as the 2022-23 school year gets underway.

      The WUSD School Board on Aug. 22 held its annual hearing and subsequently adopted a draft version of the budget for the new school year. It is still subject to further refinements in the coming months as additional pieces of information — most notably, firmed up student enrollment numbers — come to light.

      While budget forecasting has traditionally been close to spot-on in the fast, Business Manager Ben Prather said there are wildcards in the mix that could require budget amendments.

      Student enrollment figures, in particular, are one area where WUSD officials are eagle eyed this coming school year.

      WUSD had shed some of its resident students at the height of the pandemic. Prather said the coming weeks will reveal whether some of those students have returned to their home district.

      “There was speculation that we might be seeing more kids coming back to us, than were open enrolling out,” Prather said. “We’ll be able to solidify those numbers when we do the third Friday count with DPI (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction). They are the custodians of open enrollment numbers.”

      In a bigger picture sense, Prather added, “We don’t know what our population is, so this is a very preliminary snapshot. We’re going to revisit this in October.”

      Based on the preliminary figures, WUSD’s general operating budget, which funds day-to-day classroom operations, totals $34.99 million. The total district budget, factoring in such funds as community service and capital expansions, is $40.41 million.

      The district’s fund balance, which is used for reserves in the event of unforeseen occurrences, is expected to total $5.74 million throughout the course of the fiscal year, representing 19 percent of the total budget.

      The property tax levy will be firmed up in late October, once all pieces of the puzzle have come together. Based on current data, the district anticipates levying $16.78 million.

      The mill rate, meanwhile, stands at $8.66 per $1,000 of equalized property value. Across WUSD’s footprint, estimated property values stand at $1.94 billion.

      No one in the audience spoke for against WUSD’s 2022-23 school year budget at the hearing, but board members did wrangle over several issues before voting, 6-1, in favor of the document.

      One line item within the community services fund, which is also known as Fund 80, resulted in an in-depth conversation about funding priorities and potential partnerships down the road.

      School Board member Maryann Zimmerman said she was concerned with the allocation of $1.36 million toward repairs and maintenance at the aquatic and fitness center. The figure represents the lion’s share of Fund 80, which totals $1.5 million.

      “I know the community needs it and wants it, but it’s become kind of a money dump,” said Zimmerman, who cast the dissenting vote on the budget.

      Board member Steven Ryan, who sits on a separate committee dedicated to the center, said he understood the consternation over the funding amount, though he defended its placement within Fund 80.

      “The tough part is it’s a 24-year-old building,” Ryan said. “The community wants it. We own it, the city runs it. We’re in a cooperation. The expenses are hitting us big time.”

      Zimmerman had suggested partnering with an outside organization to assist the district with the pool.

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