Walker's budget means millions in cuts, Madison superintendent says

Madison district projects $8 million in cuts next year

Published On: Mar 14 2013 06:40:14 AM CDT   Updated On: Mar 14 2013 12:18:04 PM CDT
Desks in classroom

Madison schools would face $8 million in cuts next year as a result of Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal, and could face more if a controversial voucher expansion goes through, the district's interim superintendent said.

Madison is one of nine districts, including Beloit, where vouchers would be available if Walker's plan were implemented now.

The Madison district would lose out on $13.5 million over the next three years under "worst case" projections for the number of parents moving their students from public to private schools, interim superintendent Jane Belmore said.

"It's really going to have a pretty negative effect on our school district," she said.

The district would be required to pay 38.4 percent of the voucher's cost, which would help students attend a private school. Madison would also lose out on state aid for each child that left, Belmore said.

District administrators would need to make "tremendous cuts" or increase property taxes to make up the difference, she said.

In Milwaukee, where a voucher program has been in place for years, taxpayers footed an extra $53.6 million in 2012 because of the vouchers, said Tony Tagliavia, a Milwaukee Public Schools spokesman.

Something similar will happen in every district with vouchers, School District of Beloit Superintendent Steve McNeal said.

"It is a guarantee that (residents') taxes will go up," he said.

Beloit is the state's poorest district and receives the most aid. McNeal said he's expecting $3 million to $5 million in cuts will be necessary this year -- without the vouchers.

If 250 students get vouchers, property taxes would need to go up by $676,800 to maintain services, he said.

"If we were to lose 100 kids, a couple hundred kids, it would be a pretty devastating blow," McNeal said.

In the first year of the program, it's almost impossible for hundreds of students in a single city to get vouchers, said Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for the governor.

That's because the number of available vouchers is capped statewide at 500 in the first year and are awarded through a lottery system. The cap increases to 1,000 for the second year and is unlimited after that, Werwie said.

The nine districts where vouchers would expand under Walker's plan have the opportunity to get off the list if they improve enough schools, Werwie said.

The vouchers are part of the governor's budget proposal that currently sits in the state legislature.