Westfield sees lowest school tax rate in dozen years

November 15, 2018

WESTFIELD — The Westfield School District is enjoying its lowest tax rate since 2006 and second-lowest in 34 years.

Those residing in the district will pay $7.08 per $1,000 of equalized value for the 2018-19 school year, a decrease of 40 cents from the previous year.

“When we look at the school districts around us, we see it’s the lowest in the area,” Superintendent Bob Meicher said of the mill rate, which 12 years ago stood at $6.99, the last time it was set this low. Every other mill rate since 1984 was set north of $7, he reported.

Meicher credited a boost in state aid, higher property values, lack of debt and sound financial planning for the district’s low mill rate, noting the district is also very careful about dipping into its fund balance, which is projected to stand at about $5.18 million.

This year’s deficit is $199,000 due to increased employee health insurance costs and the purchasing of a new elementary reading series. The district is currently considering parking lot repairs and upgrades for its track or even the complete rebuilding of it, always keeping its taxpayers in mind throughout the planning process, Meicher said.

Westfield’s budget, finalized Oct. 17, stands at $13.9 million, up from $13.1 million the year before. The total tax levy is $7.46 million, a decrease from last year’s $7.59 million.

Property values in the district climbed 3.9 percent to $1.05 billion, compared to last year’s $1.01 billion. Student enrollment in the district stands at 1,156, down from last year’s 1,174.

Despite the decrease in total enrollment, 76 students came to Westfield via open enrollment — the highest mark in school history, Meicher said, and it resulted in $155,000 in additional revenue.

State aid increased 10.3 percent to $3.67 million, compared to last year’s $3.32 million.

Pay increased 12 percent for transportation staff, 3.8 percent for support staff, 3.4 percent for teachers and 2.1 percent for administration.

Westfield is not using referendum dollars and has no students using private school vouchers.

In state report cards Tuesday, the Department of Public Instruction issued Westfield an overall grade of 68, meeting expectations. Last year Westfield scored 66.9, also meeting expectations.

Odds and ends

Westfield has so far received $162,000 in safety grants from the state Department of Justice, money that Meicher said is being used largely to reinforce safety measures and procedures among school staff. Last week, the district took part in a training program concerning adverse childhood experiences, at one point breaking into small groups to discuss student behavior and best practices.

The safety grant money is also being used for a new push-button emergency system in each of Wesfield’s classrooms. The buttons, when pressed, immediately dispatch police to the building.

Even as Tony Evers replaces Scott Walker as Wisconsin governor, Meicher said the school district isn’t expecting drastic legislative changes. “When you have a Republican Legislature and Democrat for governor, I guess I’m just not sure what to expect,” he said.

“But I’m optimistic things won’t get more difficult for schools, fiscally speaking, so I’m happy about that. Right now, seeing all of these communities stepping up and taking charge of their own education systems, passing so many referendums, it gives me great hope for improving the education experience for our kids.”

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