This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

UPDATE: Could it happen in Franklin?


Previously on This Just In, I wondered, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, if Franklin could follow the rule set by the Whitnall School District and lower their school property tax levy even further.

I think I’m still laughing at myself.

Before we get to the answer, some background provided by a very revealing e-mail exchange I had with Franklin School Board President Debbie Larson. As a prelude to what’s to come, I want to report Larson was kind, courteous, and responsive to my inquiries.

It all started last week. When I, with some disappointment, failed to read anything on school board member Janet Evans’ blog about the school board meeting that dealt with the budget (pretty important stuff), I contacted Larson. My e-mail was short, sweet, to the point:

Can you please tell me the details of any budget action you took at Wednesday's meeting?

Larson responded the next morning.

Thank you for your note. The budget action that we took on Wednesday evening was to approve the revised budget for the 2011-12 school year. The District finally received the funding information from the State that is needed to finalize the budget for this year. I have some VERY positive news to share with you!


Compared to last year, our total tax levy is decreasing by $121,490 and our tax rate is projected to fall 4.9%. The reduction in taxes for each $100,000 of assessed value is estimated to be about $59.00.


We also received GREAT news from the city in regard to the closing of the Tax Incremental District. The City is currently estimating the School District will receive about $224,000 at the closing of the TID. (This is one time money that is left after the expenses of the TID are paid off.)  This money couldn't have come at a better time. It has been recommended that this money be used to pay off an actuarially accrued liability the the Wisconsin Retirement System charges all governmental entities. Because of earlier rules of the QEO, the amount was not able to be paid off previously. Now that the QEO no longer exists, the District can pay off this liability. In doing so, the District would save about $400,000 in next year's budge and $32,000 in interest! (We will have the exact amount from the WRS in January.) All in all this was very positive news!


I am happy to report that our budget did pass by a vote of 5-1, with one member being absent.


I hope you are as encouraged as I am!

Debbie Larson

Not good enough, so I replied:

Thank you for your response.


What was the % drop in the levy from last year?


With all due respect, the tax rate is meaningless. It's the levy that counts. 

Thank you again for your attention.

Larson wrote back:

I will need to verify that amount with Mr. Milzer, Business Manager. I'll get back to you as soon as I have that information from him.

More on that in just a bit, but then came the final response from Larson:

The % drop last year was about 0.4% or just over  $121,000. Hope that helps.

OK. So, could it, with it being another cut in the levy that was originally proposed a la Whitnall (and possibly other districts) happen in Franklin?

The answer, as expected, and sadly, is no. The school board supported -0.4% in August. That’s what they gave us in October.

Did any school board member propose further cuts in the levy? Since no one’s talking or reporting, I’ll have to assume no. That’s a major disappointment considering how at least one school board member likes to talk a good game on her blog, yet wrote nothing, nothing about the most important school item of 2011. She's welcome to respond here or on her blog, but it's rather late.

What’s very revealing is that the school board president in Franklin, when I asked her, did not know the % decrease in the levy that was approved, even though she was at the meeting and voted in favor, the most important vote she will take all year. She had to run to the Business Manager who normally tells the board members how to vote on fiscal matters when they should be making these decisions on their own. She should have asked the question the night of the meeting, not days later when a resident taxpayer inquired. This isn't exactly the best school board leadership.

We continue to have a very uninformed and unrepresentative school board in Franklin. The members vote as they are instructed by the edcuation intelligentsia as opposed to the taxpayers. And while I appreciate Janet Evans' previous votes in support of fiscal responsibility, her absence of budget blogging in this instance was troubling. So much for communication and transparency.

In closing, compare Franklin’s measly -0.4% levy to that in other districts. This was the year to send a perfect thank you to the people who have paid the bills and then some year after year. But when it comes to the taxpayers, the Franklin School Board just doesn’t care.

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