Change in counting students will cost district $1M

July 22, 2009

A change in how the state allows the Wauwatosa School District to count students at the Juvenile Detention Center School will cost the district about $1 million over the next four years, officials said.

By virtue of the school's location on the Milwaukee County Grounds, Wauwatosa staffs the detention center school. In the past, students at the center during enrollment count dates in September and January were considered residents, no matter how short their stay. This bolstered the district's revenue cap authority and state aid.

In addition, the state reimbursed the district for all costs associated with students staying less than a full semester.

Representatives of the state Department of Public Instruction said the old counting method meant the district was double-dipping on some students, getting more state dollars than it should.

Patrick Gasper, DPI communications officer, said the state discovered the problem and is trying to fix it.

"We're trying to move forward with this and correct something that has not been done properly in the past few years," he said.

System began in 1990s

Superintendent Phil Ertl said the district was not cheating, but was following DPI orders issued in the mid-1990s. Now, the state is changing its mind, yanking dollars from the district.

Detention center students come from districts around the area, but they essentially live at the facility. For this reason, DPI officials in 1993 said Wauwatosa needed to count the students as residents, though the district protested, Ertl said.

Gasper said he could neither confirm nor deny whether this occurred.

Regardless, the DPI now says Wauwatosa can claim students as residents only if they will be at the center for at least a semester.

That means the district can either count students as residents or receive a reimbursement, but not both.

Concerns about future

Ertl said he hopes the lost revenue cap authority can be made up by additional resident students attending the district. When asked whether the drop in income could mean budget cuts for the district, a district spokesman said the superintendent would not comment.

District officials are concerned the state also could cease compensation for the incarcerated students not counted as residents. Given recent state budget turmoil, Ertl said, he worries reimbursement could be reduced or stopped in the future, passing the costs of incarcerated students to Wauwatosa taxpayers.

Brian Pahnke, DPI assistant superintendent for the division of finance and management, said the state appropriation for reimbursement was reduced this year. However, following the reduction, the DPI still will receive more money than it needs to pay all the reimbursements. Pahnke said he is confident the state will continue paying.


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