CHICAGO -- Most school districts in Wisconsin expect to face fiscal constraints because of state-mandated revenue caps, according to a recently released survey.
The survey, conducted by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, found that a large majority of districts believe the caps would have "negative consequences."
School districts are subject to an annual revenue increase cap of $190 per pupil, or the annual inflation rate, whichever is greater. The Wisconsin legislature enacted the caps in 1992 to curb growth in local property taxes.
The survey, which was sent this spring to the state's 427 school districts to gauge the impact of the caps, indicated that many school districts are already feeling squeezed by the caps.
"The survey shows that school districts are cutting back on essential activities," said Richard Collins, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
The survey, which received responses from 337 districts, found that 43% of the districts responding have cut maintenance spending because of the caps, while 50% reported that future spending cuts were likely. About 44% of the districts surveyed have delayed improvements to their facilities, while 48% said spending cuts for improvements were likely. Almost a third of the districts have increased class sizes, while 49% expect class size increases due to budget constraints.
Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, said state lawmakers should use the survey "to make sure an appropriate amount of money is available to schools" under a new school funding system that is slated for 1996.
The funding system, which was approved by the legislature in March, calls for the state to pay two-thirds of school operating costs by 1996. Kevin Keane, Gov. Tommy Thompson's press secretary, said lawmakers are expected to come up with a school funding plan during the next legislative session, which begins in January.
Keane said that, regardless of the survey results, Thompson would not be in favor of rescinding the revenue caps.
"The governor fought eight years to get spending controls on schools," Keane said. "YoU can't have property tax relief without cost controls."
He said the Thompson Administration "is confident school districts will find ways to provide high-quality education within their budgets."
The administration is currently formulating a plan to raise an additional $1 billion for schools in the fiscal 1996-97 biennial budget that is scheduled to be unveiled in January, Keane said.
Thompson, who opposes raising state sales or income taxes, favors using $500 million of expected annual revenue growth and savings from restructuring state government to provide the necessary funds for schools, according to Keane.
If lawmakers fail to pass a plan by Oct. 31, 1995, the new school funding law calls for automatically limiting a school district's tax levy to 10 mills starting in 1997. Currently, the average school levy is 17 mills.
Rating agency officials have expressed concern about pressure on state and school finances due to the enactment of the new school funding system.