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  • Writer's pictureEmily Berry

The $20 million question

Updated: Jan 6, 2019

This post was first published on my original site September 10, 2017

Every year, Shorewood property owners get a tax bill, and with it, a handy explanation of where their tax payments go -- and schools are the biggest recipient. That should be reason for dozens of people to attend the district's Annual Meeting, when by state law the board of education gathers and members of the public move to approve or reject the district's budget for the coming school year. You should attend this year's meeting if you have a student attending school in our district, live here, shop here or own a home or business here.

Superintendent Bryan Davis and Business Manager Patrick Miller will host an information meeting at 6 p.m. ahead of the formal meeting. The official part of the Annual Meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22 in the high school library, which is on the second floor of the central building at SHS.

Read the notice and link to supporting materials here.

The basics:

This year, the district is requesting to collect $20.5 million from us for our schools in support of a total budget just shy of $37 million. The total budget is up $2.36 million, or about 6.8% from last year.


Here's what $20 million looks like, by the way, when hidden in a mattress. (Weird story).

The total amount levied is set to go up by about 2% -- our tax rate is set to be unchanged, so any increases in your tax bill would be a result of an increased property value assessment.

So, about the meeting...

I attended last year's information session and wasn't especially impressed. There was very little year-over-year comparison information, not much calling out historic trends and explaining the reasons behind them, and no context in terms of how we compare to districts of our size or nearby us. Where we had pie charts and other graphs to look at, they weren't the best. I am biased because part of my day job is to create informational and engaging presentations, so I am a heavy user of PowerPoint. I don't have a lot of patience for shoddy graphics and shallow information. I hope I don't see the same thing this year. I want to be clear I am not searching for some type of red flag of malfeasance -- I want to thoroughly understand the school budget so that I can be a better advocate for our schools and answer other people's questions about our district operations. I would like to be prepared, because a lot of people will ask a friend they think is paying attention (me), unfortunately, rather than calling Mr. Miller or Dr. Davis and asking them.

I wish I didn't think I will be in a small group in the audience on Tuesday. Folks, you are entitled to understand what you're paying for and should feel 100% comfortable asking our board members and administrators about our spending priorities, our needs, our long-term investments, our debt payments, our plans for future borrowing and our teachers' retirements.

I know weeknights are tough for everyone to attend meetings -- if you can't come, then please write district leadership and tell them you want to be involved, but you can't attend the meeting. Tell them your priorities and tell them how they can get your input. (Would you watch if they streamed the meeting live? Would you watch recorded videos explaining parts of the budget?)

It's your $20 million, and the district wants to use it to educate your kids, your grandkids and your neighbors' kids. I have a hard time thinking of something you should be more interested in, honestly. Be there or be square!

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