kusd meeting

Tarik Hamdan, Chief Financial Officer presents Kenosha Unified School District's proposed 2018-19 budget during a public hearing Thursday night before a nearly empty Indian Trail High School and Academy auditorium. The audience comprised largely the School Board and a few district administrators.

Before a virtually empty Indian Trail High School & Academy auditorium, Kenosha Unified School District “electors” approved a preliminary tax levy and budget for the 2018-19 school year.

The only electors were the seven School Board members, Superintendent Sue Savaglio-Jarvis, fewer than 10 administrators and two central office personnel.

No other members of the public, save for a Kenosha Education Association staff member and her husband, were present to vote on the preliminary $90.7 million tax levy or the proposed $257.3 million operating budget.

Prior to the vote, Unified Chief Financial Officer Tarik Hamdan presented the facts and figures behind the budget.

Enrollment declining

Hamdan showed a projected 355-student decrease for 2018-19, saying that’s consistent with annual trends since 2011-12.

From then to now, student enrollment will have dropped from 22,682 to 21,379, if the projections for this school year hold true.

The significance: State aid, which accounts for 65 percent of the district’s revenue, is connected to enrollment.

The tax levy fluctuates accordingly.

“Essentially, our budget is determined by the size of our enrollment,” Hamdan said, explaining further that aid is the calculated on a rolling three-year average.

Still, as long as the student population continues to decline, the district can take an exemption, in this case $3.6 million, from the levy limits imposed by state caps.

However, once enrollment stabilizes, the exemption goes away, meaning the district will have less funding for its budget and can’t make it up in the tax levy.

Slight levy drop

Although subject to change when the state sets the district’s equalized values in October, the tax levy is projected to decrease compared to last school year by 0.68 percent, according to Hamdan’s calculations.

That’s based on a projected 5.5 percent increase in property values districtwide, with a tax rate of $9.63 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Using those figures, which Hamdan stressed are “very preliminary” and likely will change, the property tax on a $200,000 home would decrease to $1,926 for 2018-19 compared to $2,046 in 2017-18.

‘We’re doing awesome’

After the meeting Savaglio-Jarvis was upbeat about the district’s financial prospects.

The district has achieved a Aa2 long-term debt rating from Moody’s Investment Service, which also raised Unified municipal bonds to the so-called “MIG 1” ranking, Moody’s top credit rating. The ratings allow Unified to do needed borrowing at favorable costs.

“The takeaway is, we’re doing awesome,” Savaglio-Jarvis said. “It’s about having that keen eye on what’s going on in the state financially. Everybody is watching and monitoring and paying attention.”