ONALASKA — While state government hasn’t shut down, officials in the Onalaska School District have noticed the Legislature is more than three weeks overdue on a new two-year budget.
The school district recently approved a three-tier staffing plan, Superintendent Fran Finco said, with the top two tiers contingent on whether the Legislature passes Gov. Scott Walker’s recommended increases to per-student state aid. While the district has been able to start filling some positions that don’t rely on increased state support, filling other posts, including an instructional coach, social worker and fifth-grade teacher, won’t start until the budget is passed.
With the first day of school only six weeks away, the longer the Legislature takes to pass the budget, the less time the district will have to advertise, interview and screen candidates for these positions.
“Everything is up in the air,” Finco said. “We don’t know whether there will be additional money. We have to budget as if there won’t be.”
In his budget proposal, Gov. Walker proposed increasing state funding for higher education by nearly $650 million, including a per-pupil state aid increase of $200 this year and an additional per-pupil increase of $204 next year. Tier II of the staffing plan anticipates the Legislature passing only half of the proposed increase, while Tier III is based on the full funding proposal.
Complicating things, Finco said, is talk in Madison of competing proposals including one that wouldn’t increase state aid but would increase the revenue limit school district operate on. That proposal would allow districts to spend more, but if there is no increase in state funding, would put that increase on the back of the taxpayers.
Despite having a fiscal year that starts on July 1, many school districts budgets are not finalized until the middle of October when school boards vote to approve a final property tax levy. Until then, districts operate on the old spending authority and budget planning remains in flux until details such as the state budget are ironed out, the enrollment count in September and the total property value in the district.