EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire school board voted unanimously Monday to pass a $154.7 million operating budget and a $60.2 million tax levy for the 2020-21 school year.
The school district’s 2020-21 tax levy is 3.4% lower than last year’s tax levy. That’s due to a $2.6 million bump in state aid and a smaller increase in federal aid this year, said Abby Johnson, executive director of business services, at a September meeting of the district’s budget committee.
The district’s new 2020-21 tax rate is $7.44 per $1,000 of equalized value — 84 cents lower than last year’s rate, $8.28 per $1,000 of equalized value. But depending on their municipality, homeowners may not see that exact decrease on their property taxes. Property owners’ exact taxes are collected based on their property’s assessed value, depending on their municipality, and are not directly calculated using equalized value.
The district is anticipating $172.6 million in operating expenses for 2020-21, which is $8.9 million, or 5.4%, higher than what it initially projected for the 2019-20 school year, $163.7 million.
The district’s approved 2020-21 budget has a deficit — it’s projecting $174.4 million in total expenses this school year, and only $171.8 million in revenues. But much of that deficit is related to items the school district doesn’t have control over, Johnson told the Leader-Telegram Tuesday. For example, a larger share of students have open-enrolled out of the district this year, leading to a loss increase of $1.3 million for the district, Johnson said. (Just over $600,000 of the deficit comes from the capital projects fund, since funds for those projects were borrowed in the 2016-17 year and are traditionally spent as the projects are completed, Johnson noted.)
The school board in October also voted to eliminate student fees for high school athletics and some student activities during the 2020-21 school year, removing an estimated $260,000 in revenue. The district is also expecting to take relatively minor revenue hits from student parking permit fees, which were reduced from $50 to $12.50 this year, and from sporting events tickets, roughly a $180,000 loss, Johnson said in September.
But the pandemic did bring some additional federal aid to the district: just over $1.5 million from the federal CARES Act, which was signed into law in March.