POTOSI, Wis. — Potosi School Superintendent Ron Saari is breathing a sigh of relief.
This year, he will not have to cut staff, programming or transportation services to balance the district’s budget.
“We have made over $455,000 in cuts over the last three years,” he noted.
A bill co-authored by state Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, would benefit small school districts such as Potosi by increasing sparsity aid, along with boosting low-spending school districts by raising the revenue limit ceiling. It heads to Gov. Scott Walker after the state Senate passed it Tuesday. The governor said he intends to sign it into law.
Sparsity aid, provided to districts with 745 students or less and a population density of less than 10 students per square mile, is currently set at $300 per pupil, but the bill would increase that number to $400 for the 2018-19 school year.
Potosi would receive an additional $34,000 added to the $98,000 allocated this year.
Marklein promoted the bill for about one year, compromising with colleagues as to how much aid would increase. A previous iteration of the bill contained a provision that provided $100 per pupil for districts with 746 to 1,000 students.
“I’m delighted,” he said of the revised bill’s passage. “It’s been a long journey.”
The bill also permits some school districts to increase the per-pupil dollars they can raise in property taxes and state aid.
Currently, the limit is $9,100, but the bill would increase this to $9,400 during the 2018-19 school year. The ceiling would increase each year thereafter by an additional $100 to a maximum of $9,800 in the 2022-2023 year.
State Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, and State Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, supported the proposed legislation.
Tranel wrote in a text message to the Telegraph Herald that student enrollment is becoming rural schools’ “biggest challenge.”
“Schools are largely funded on a per-pupil basis, so fewer students equals fewer dollars,” he wrote. “Sparsity aid is a tool that allows us to go outside the formula and get money directly to our most rural schools.”
Wisconsin Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, also supported the legislation along with multiple amendments that were rejected along party lines.
One would have increased sparsity aid to $500 per pupil and provided $200 per pupil for school districts with enrollments from 746 students to 1,000 students.
“Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans’ sparsity aid proposal is a weak attempt to solve an education crisis they created,” she wrote in a statement.