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Are Schools Fleecing Taxpayers?


It’s not possible for schools to fleece taxpayers even if schools wanted to. As a former three-year Treasurer on the Mequon-Thiensville School District (MTSD) Board of Education, please allow me to explain.

In 1993, Wisconsin Act 16 established revenue limits, setting a maximum amount of revenue any Wisconsin school district can raise through property taxes and state funds to be used in operations. Schools cannot just tax whatever they want.

Changes in the revenue limit are calculated by a funding formula, driven by enrollment (a 3-year average), an inflationary index (which has been $0 per student since 2015) and adjustments for districts with severely declining enrollment. For MTSD, property taxes are about 84% of school revenue (income), so now you see why we always talk about enrollment-it is a huge driver for MTSD’s operating budget.

The only way we can be taxed above the revenue limit is if we allow it through a vote, which is a referendum. The referendum portion of property taxes is used to make scheduled referendum loan principal and interest payments. The only other addition to the levy is a small amount for community service (Recreation Department).

When it comes to our individual property taxes, we pay a portion of the total levy based on the market value of our home relative to the market value of all property in the school district. For example, if you own 1% of property, you pay 1% of the school levy. In Mequon-Thiensville, school taxes are about 50% of our total property tax bill, so it’s important we understand them.

While there’s certainly more nuance to the above, if you ever hear your school district is fleecing you, tell them that’s not possible in Wisconsin. I hope the above was somewhat helpful to readers. Thank you.

Paul Buzzell, Mequon

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