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Madison board members call proposed school budget 'compromise'

Published On: Jul 15 2013 09:58:45 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 16 2013 08:01:58 AM CDT

MADISON, Wis. -

Board members got their first look at the Madison Metropolitan School District's proposed budget for next year and called it a "compromise."

Superintendent Jen Cheatham, in her first budget proposal since arriving in Madison earlier this year, recommended a 4.5 percent property tax increase. That would cost the average homeowner about $119.

The tax hike is necessary to offset declining state aid and maintain staffing and programs, Board President Ed Hughes said.

"We could increase our spending a lot if we didn't have any constraints, but we're certainly aware of the burden on the property taxpayers," Hughes said.

Board member Dean Loumos, who won a contested seat in April's election, said he wasn't "100 percent" behind the budget proposal, adding that he would support a bigger tax increase to fund more alternative programs for at-risk students.

Board member James Howard has said he would like to see an increase more in line with inflation, or about 2 percent. Howard was away on vacation Monday.

The board could raise taxes by up to 9.5 percent this year as state law allows. That's about $250 for the average homeowner.

Cheatham's increase would be the third-largest in Madison in the last decade, although that could change.

Former Superintendent Dan Nerad proposed a similar property tax hike of more than 4 percent last year, and the board ultimately approved a much smaller increase.

Cheatham has said she didn't support an increase by the maximum amount until her administration could study how every dollar is spent within the district.

Board member T.J. Mertz described this year's budget as a "transitional" one, before Cheatham's team can complete a full review next year.

"The team that's been here has, in some cases, only been here a few weeks," he said. "I look forward to developing (comprehensive plans), but right now, we don't have those in place, and just throwing more money out there isn't going to help anyone."

Cheatham said her "zero-balance" budget method would address personnel and non-personnel spending, and said no one could remember the last time district officials undertook such a review.

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