The Tomah Area School District can avoid cutting programs over the next five years as long as voters maintain the district's spending authority and the state provides at least a minimal aid increase.

That was the message Tomah School Board members heard during their regular monthly meeting Dec. 18 at Robert Kupper Learning Center.

School district business manager Greg Gaarder projected a balanced budget through 2022 if voters pass another referendum to override state-imposed revenue caps and a $100 per student categorical aid increase each year.

Voters in 2016 passed a referendum that allows the district to exceed the revenue cap by $1.5 million for each of the next three years. That spending authority expires in 2019-20 unless voters pass another referendum. It marked the first time Tomah voters had authorized additional spending since revenue caps were created in 1993.

Even if the referendum is renewed, the district still needs an increase in state aid to avoid heading into deficit, Gaarder said. He projected a shortfall of $72,000 in 2020-21 and $1.8 million in 2023-24 if state aid doesn't increase.

"What's important is that we get an increase in the categorical side of things," Gaarder said.

Gaarder's projections include flat enrollment, an annual 1.5 percent increase in property values, a two percent annual salary increase and an annual eight percent hike in health insurance premiums.

If the referendum passes and the district receive the $100 state aid boost, the property tax rate would still fall from $8.04 per $1,000 in 2017-18 to $7.89 in 2023-24. He said the district got significant relief in the last state budget, which boosted state aid by $200 per student for each of the next two years.

Gaarder said Tomah has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state.

"For what we do in the Tomah School District, we get a very good value for the money we spend," he said.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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