SDSM Financial History and Information

In outlining the School District of South Milwaukee’s financial situation, it is first necessary to explain how public school districts receive funding.

  • In Wisconsin, public school districts are subject to a revenue limit that restricts the amount of money they can receive from state aid and local property taxes. The state budget determines these revenue limits.
  • The state budget established revenue limits in 1993. It mandated these limits using a formula based on the amount of money each district spent the year prior. As a low-spending district, South Milwaukee got locked into a low revenue limit.
  • The School District of South Milwaukee has one of the lowest per-pupil revenue limits in the Metro Milwaukee Area.

The current revenue limit of the South Milwaukee School District is $613 per student below the School District of Cudahy and $1,220 per student below the School District of Greenfield.

While the School District of South Milwaukee has served our community well for generations and has been fiscally responsible, revenues have not kept up with inflation in recent years. The district dealt with insufficient revenue in different ways through years by using one-time funding, applying for grants, eliminating or reducing positions and programs, changing health insurance, and freezing salaries among other items.

It is now time to ask the community to allow South Milwaukee’s revenue limits to reach the “middle of the pack” in the metro-Milwaukee area.

Under state law, Wisconsin school districts may seek permission in the form of a referendum to increase their revenue limits.

  • With an increase of $3.8 million recurring, the district’s per-pupil revenue limit would increase to $10,879, putting it in the middle of the Metro Milwaukee area districts.


If the community voted in support of a referendum, local property taxes would be impacted.

  • The School District of South Milwaukee has debt that will be paid in full by April 2024. The school board is considering a “phase-in” structure that would limit the property tax impact.
  • In addition, the passage of a referendum could result in an increase in state aid that would help offset the property tax impact.

The chart above reflects several important items:

  • The amount of tax impact would increase for five years. In 2024-25, the tax bill would decrease by $191.40. This is due to current debt being paid off.
  • The total amount of debt being removed from the district is $4,463,550. This is because the 6-12 Campus will be paid off in 2022-23, and the energy exemption debt will be paid off in 2024-25.
  • The total amount of referendum funds being requested by the district is $3.8 million. This amount would not be placed on the tax bills all in one year. Instead, the district will gradually place amounts on the tax bill beginning in 2019-20 with all new amounts added as of 2024-25. The amount for the referendum would not increase after 2024-25.
    • The cumulative tax impact would increase each year, until 2024-25 when taxes would be reduced from the previous year by an estimated $191.40.*
    • At the end of the six years, the overall impact is that taxes would be reduced by $140.18 per $100,000 home.

Adding in the referendum funding now will allow the district to strengthen safety measures, train staff to identify and assist students with mental health needs, maintain our programs and staffing, and enhance our student learning opportunities -- all of which are an investment in the future of South Milwaukee.

Other districts have had significantly more revenue to accomplish similar goals each year since 1993. For example, there is a metro-Milwaukee district that has approximately 280 fewer students than South Milwaukee, with a similar number of schools. This district does not have any additional financial needs that South Milwaukee would not have. However, the district receives $1.2 million more PER YEAR than South Milwaukee, all due to the fact that South Milwaukee was a frugal district in 1993, resulting in a lower revenue base.

As demonstrated on the above chart, because South Milwaukee (the red line) started lower in 1993 in school spending, we have stayed lower each and every year because the yearly revenue limit increase per student is the same for each district, regardless of where the district started.

Additionally, because the difference in the starting revenue limit per student was so big, even though the “blue line” district has 280 fewer students, it receives $1.2 million more each year. This district is able to provide more services, staff and upgrades to its students and schools simply due to the beginning inequity of 1993.

History of Budget Cuts in South Milwaukee

The revenue limits really started to hit South Milwaukee in the year 2000. The district was able to avoid cuts in the first few years by adding four-year-old kindergarten, thereby increasing enrollment and bringing in more funds, as well as enough costs to add staff. The district also created a deficit budget, which meant the Board used fund balance for a couple years to cover the operating budget. This cannot continue year after year, as the fund balance is a finite pool that was shrunk considerably in the 2002-2003 school year.

The Board was put in the position of having to make extremely difficult decisions for the next 10 years, reducing approximately $13 million in programs of staffing positions. The items reduced are listed below.

The district gained more flexibility around some larger cost items , such as healthcare, after 2012, and made changes that significantly impacted staff. While this was necessary to maintain programs and current staff levels, it also could not continue year after year if the district were to retain quality staff.

During the last few years, the Board has discussed a need for a referendum if the state did not change the way it funded schools. The Board, administration and staff advocated at the state level for changes to the way schools are financed. There has not been change at the state level, leaving a referendum as the only way to address the needs of the students in South Milwaukee.

The inequity of funding at the state level, along with other state regulations connected to how districts were able to spend funds in the past and currently, have led to asking the community to support a referendum.

The list below represents all the positions, programs and line item budgets that were reduced or eliminated beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2011-12. During this timeframe, other positions may have been added through one time funds, grants, or district funds. However, the additions did not come close to off-setting the many reductions made during those years. The Board was able to add positions back over the last few years, but most of the positions reduced below are still gone.

2003-04 ($1,600,000)

  1. Eliminated librarian position
  2. Eliminated elementary classroom teachers
  3. Eliminated elementary reading teachers
  4. Reduced guidance counselors
  5. Reduced band and orchestra teachers
  6. Reduced gifted and talented teacher
  7. Reduced middle school electives
  8. Reduced early childhood speech teacher
  9. Reduced special education teachers
  10. Eliminated SAGE at Rawson Elementary School
  11. Reduced overloads at SMHS
  12. Reduced social worker
  13. Eliminated curriculum coordinator
  14. Reduced elementary secretary hours
  15. Reduced IMC & library secretary hours
  16. Reduced guidance secretary
  17. Eliminated special education and mediation aides
  18. Eliminated custodian
  19. Reduced cleaning personnel hours
  20. Reduced occupational and physical therapist hours
  21. Eliminated building and virtual school supervisor
  22. Eliminated nurse/AODA coordinator
  23. Revised HS associate principal to non-admin
  24. Reduced business & pupil services admin for 1 year
  25. Reduced HS assoc principal days of work
  26. Revised administrative benefit structure
  27. Reduced employee travel budgets
  28. Reduced supply budgets
  29. Reduced substitute teacher costs
  30. Reduced supervision assignments
  31. Reduced special ed transportation costs
  32. Reduced co-curricular budget
  33. Eliminated drivers’ education program
  34. Increased student fees and activity/athletic fees
  35. Created student parking fee
  36. Used fund balance to help balance budget

2004-05 ($900,000)

  1. Reduced special education teachers
  2. Eliminated elementary classroom teachers
  3. Eliminated foreign language teachers
  4. Reduced allied arts teachers at the middle school
  5. Eliminated librarian position
  6. Eliminated environmental ed teacher position
  7. Eliminated reading recovery teachers & costs
  8. Reduced business education teacher
  9. Reduced guidance secretary position
  10. Combined MS and HS principal positions for 1 year
  11. Reduced cleaning personnel hours
  12. Increased student parking fee and co-curricular fees
  13. Eliminated teacher leadership positions
  14. Reduced special ed transportation & tuition costs
  15. Reduced teacher mentor costs

2005-06 ($590,000)

  1. Eliminated elementary classroom teachers
  2. Reduced MS teachers
  3. Moved positions to grant funding
  4. Eliminated hearing interpreter position
  5. Revised MS Assoc. Principal to non-admin for 2 yrs
  6. Reduced activities and athletics budget
  7. Increased activities and athletics fees
  8. Restructure technology department

2006-07 ($671,656)

  1. Eliminated elementary classroom teachers
  2. Reduced foreign language teacher
  3. Reduced physical education teacher
  4. Reduced social studies teacher
  5. Reduced science teacher
  6. Eliminated tech ed teacher
  7. Moved positions to grant funding
  8. Reduced dept of instruction secretary
  9. Shifted staffing and utility costs to Funds 50 & 80
  10. Reduced employee and pupil travel budgets
  11. Reduced all school budgets and paper budgets
  12. Reduced all district department budgets
  13. Reduced postage costs
  14. Reduced employee dues/fees budget
  15. Reduced school board budget
  16. Reduced co-curricular budgets
  17. Reduced audio-visual budget
  18. Switched health insurance carrier to maintain cost level

2007-08 ($820,561)

  1. Eliminated elementary classroom teacher
  2. Reduced business ed teacher
  3. Reduced foreign language teacher
  4. Eliminated social studies teacher
  5. Eliminated career coordinator guidance counselor
  6. Moved positions to grant funding
  7. Reduced HS receptionist position
  8. Reduced custodial overtime expenses
  9. Revised teacher leadership positions
  10. Reduced copy center budget
  11. Reduced school and district department budgets
  12. Increased open enrollment revenue
  13. Increased school fees

2008-09 ($713,277)

  1. Eliminated band teacher
  2. Eliminated HS business ed teacher
  3. Eliminated HS art teacher
  4. Eliminated HS family & consumer ed teacher
  5. Reduced English teacher
  6. Eliminated elementary classroom teacher
  7. Eliminated early childhood speech consortium
  8. Reallocated costs to Fund 80
  9. Reduced secretary overtime budget
  10. Reduced Fund 10 budgets
  11. Reduced IMC budget
  12. Revised Title I funding and duties
  13. Eliminated paid days for tech integration leaders
  14. Used fund balance to help balance budget
  15. Restructured business office staff

2009-10 ($1,127,092)

  1. Reduced HS physical education teacher
  2. Reduced HS English teacher
  3. Eliminated program support/diagnostician
  4. Eliminated librarian (now 1 librarian district-wide)
  5. Eliminated HS guidance counselor
  6. Eliminated HS overloads
  7. Reduced dept of instruction secretary
  8. Eliminated HS library secretary
  9. Eliminated custodian
  10. Reduced Pupil Services Coordinator to .60 FTE
  11. Increased student fees by $5
  12. Used fund balance to help balance budget
  13. Reduced teacher leadership positions
  14. Revised curriculum specialist positions
  15. Froze salaries for all administrators
  16. Restructured business office staff
  17. Completed Energy Education program
  18. Increased open enrollment revenue
  19. Reduced cleaning personnel
  20. Reduced conference/travel budget
  21. Reduced district office budget
  22. Reduced mileage payments for all
  23. Reduced magazines and publications budgets
  24. Reduced curriculum development budget
  25. Reduced utility costs by closing elem schools in summer
  26. Reduced activities and athletics budget
  27. Revised life insurance carrier
  28. Shifted utilities to Fund 50

2010-11 ($895,400)

  1. Reduced overloads
  2. Reduced music teacher
  3. Reduced Title I teacher
  4. Reduced classroom teacher
  5. Eliminated custodian position
  6. Eliminated cleaning positions
  7. Eliminated security manager position
  8. Reduced pupil services director position
  9. Reduced school building budgets
  10. Reallocated utilities to Fund 80
  11. Increased open enrollment revenue budget
  12. Reduced teacher leadership positions

2011-12 ($1,111,700)

  1. Eliminated music teacher positions
  2. Eliminated technical education teacher position
  3. Eliminated business education teacher position
  4. Eliminated elementary classroom teacher position
  5. Eliminated technology integration position
  6. Eliminated classroom literacy coordinator position
  7. Reduced or eliminated several secretarial positions
  8. Eliminated painter position
  9. Reduced custodial position
  10. Increased student fees
  11. Reallocated crossing guard budget to Fund 80
  12. Apply utility increases to Funds 50 and 80
  13. Shifted custodial overtime to Fund 80
  14. Reduced site and department budgets
  15. Closed buildings one day a week each summer
  16. Eliminated student accident insurance
  17. Eliminated paid supervision
  18. Reduced co-curricular offerings and coach pay
  19. Reduced paraprofessional time

*=The district’s financial projections are based on current state law. Changes to state law may change school districts’ projections.