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Rural schools like Cambria-Friesland tasked ‘to do more with less’

October 27, 2016 GMT

CAMBRIA -- Residents in the Cambria-Friesland school district will see a significant increase in their school taxes after the district lost $144,000 in state aid.

The district, which passed its final budget Monday, reported a school tax rate of $11.53 per $1,000 of equalized value, an increase of more than $1 from last year’s rate of $10.32.

At a time when state aid bumps helped bring down school tax rates for rural districts like Portage and Pardeeville, Superintendent Timothy Raymond said his district’s drop in aid raises questions with less-than-satisfying answers.

“When I first talked to the state (the explanation) was increased property value and losing kids, and that is one reason,” he said. “But we have neighboring districts in similar situations who saw significant increases in aid. There’s a discussion at DPI (Department of Public Instruction) about the rate of spending, and how you compare to the rest of state, which is an interesting concept, in that you’re comparing us to Madison and Milwaukee.

“But that’s not comparing apples to oranges -- that’s a freight train and a thumbtack.”

Cambria-Friesland at 389 students again saw a slight decline in enrollment this year, losing nine students, while property value climbed 1.7 percent to $213 million.

The district’s total budget is balanced at $5,115,000 with a total tax levy of $2,460,000.

“The (state’s) reasoning is stretched,” Raymond said of aid. “Right now I don’t have an explanation where a seventh-grader can understand it. What we are seeing is more and more of your small schools, your small rural schools, really being told to do more with less without going to referendum.

“The state legislators are saying you shouldn’t be going to referendum so much. Well, number one, we live in a democracy, so let the people decide. Number two, create some different levers for us to pull for equal funding.”

Cambria-Friesland -- a single-building, K-12 school district -- is in its second year of a three-year operational referendum, allowing the district to exceed the revenue limit by $450,000 this year after using $350,000 last year. Next year it will use $650,000.

Though the impact of the state’s expanded voucher program this year is minimal for Cambria-Friesland at only one student, Raymond said the issue deserves more attention statewide.

“State representatives have said vouchers are here to stay -- I certainly hope not,” Raymond said. “We can’t support a two-tier system.”

Having attended a parochial school as a child, Raymond said he thinks the conversation about vouchers shouldn’t be about which school is “better” -- which seems to be the “unstated attitude” of some legislators in Madison.

“Looking at what taxpayers in Wisconsin are paying, I think we really need to have the conversation with elected leaders: Is this really what the Constitution (allows)? Is joining church and state really a good idea?

“We deserve to have that conversation, and not just in the chambers in Madison. That should be a statewide discussion.”

Salaries

Salary raises for teachers this year were limited to the Consumer Price Index of just 0.12 percent, but using stipends Cambria-Friesland was able to give a 1.36 percent increase to teachers “across the board.”

“We’re very proud of that,” Raymond said. “We have a great staff at Cambria-Friesland.”

Support staff received a 2 percent raise.

Raymond, as superintendent and K-5 principal, will make $110,000, up from last year’s salary of $107,100.

Deb Torrison, in her first year as the 6-12 building principal, will make $88,000.