Budget cuts stave off Wauzeka-Steuben referendum for at least one year

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By Ted Pennekamp

 

There will be no referendum to exceed the revenue cap limit for the Wauzeka-Steuben School District for next school year. At the Dec. 29 special meeting, the school board decided to make numerous budget cuts which will amount to a total of about $650,000.

Following a series of meetings in November and December, during which the board received numerous ideas from the public about the budget deficit, it was thought that a referendum during the 2017-2018 school year would be necessary even with several budget cuts. The board has now approved enough cuts, however, that a referendum in 2017-2018 will not be necessary.

At the annual meeting on Oct. 24, the budget deficit was anticipated to be $448,689 for the 2016-2017 school year. Based upon enrollment projections and inflationary costs, the deficit was projected to be approximately $650,000 for the 2017-2018 school year.

District Administrator Robert Sailer explained that the ideas from the community have been placed into two categories of short-term and long-term solutions. In a letter to be sent to district residents, Sailer noted that the community recommended under short-term solutions that the board make significant changes to employee health insurance, review all internal and external contracts, review the current mode of student transportation and look at potential opportunities through contracting out busing services, add participation fees to athletics, and reinstall a registration fee.  The community recommended to the board for long-term solutions to continue to look at employee health insurance, add additional summer school offerings (additional revenue), research after-school programming (additional opportunities could attract current open-enrolled students back to the district); to conduct an anonymous survey by an outside company regarding why people open-enroll out of the district and what can the district do to close these perceived issues, and to look at opportunities to make the district more of a community center (outside of the school day the district could offer adult classes, create and open a fitness center, and open the LMC to residents, were just some of the ideas). The board then met at its regularly scheduled November board meeting and began discussions on these ideas and others that were brought forward. Additional meetings were held in December.  

At the Dec. 29 special meeting, the board made final decisions on how to address the budget deficit. Below are the decisions that were made at that meeting. 

“As one will quickly see, every stone is being turned and every part of the district is being impacted,” said Sailer. “The board’s intentions are to have as little student impact as possible, while understanding that any budget cut is never beneficial.”

The cuts are listed in no particular order. The board intends to implement the cuts with not only as little impact to student learning as possible but also as little impact to staff employment as possible. 

#1 Fee’s – Re-implement a $25 registration fee for all students. In the event a family does not fill out a free-and-reduced application, the fee would be $100. (Potential revenue approximately $7,500)

#2 Teaching – All business education classes will be moved to distance learning.  Distance learning is used for upper level Spanish courses. The students stay in the building and attend the class in a specialized room with monitors and projectors that allow the students to have an interactive experience with a teacher at another school for approximately $250/student. (Potential cost savings $50,000)

#3 Technology – Do not rehire the vacancy left by a retirement. (Cost savings approximately $15,000)

#4 Transportation – Starting second semester of this school year, the district is piloting a new route system. The district will maintain four routes in the morning. In the afternoon, the four routes will be combined into three routes.  A number of students do not ride buses in the afternoon because of extra-curricular activities and other factors.  Bids have also been requested to see if there is any potential cost savings by contracting out transportation.

#5 Special Education – Based upon student need, it is anticipated that the number of students receiving speech services can be reduced from three to two days. (Potential cost savings $27,748)

#6 Nurse contract - Reduce the school nurse contract by 50 percent. (Cost Savings of $10,000)

#7 Custodial department - Reduce the custodial department by 1.0 FTE. (Potential cost savings $50,000)

#8 Paraprofessionals - Reduce paraprofessional staff by 1.5 FTE. (Potential cost savings $50,000)

#9 Administrative assistants - (business official assistant, school secretary, and administrative assistant): Job descriptions will be redrafted to make three positions into two positions with some duties being assigned to other staff. (Potential cost savings $50,000) 

#10 Health insurance - The district will reduce health insurance costs by $200,000 for next school year. This reduction will come from potentially multiple areas such as bidding out insurance, plan design, employee contributions, etc.  The goal of the reduction is to have as minimal impact on the individual employee as possible, but maintain a $200,000 reduction.

#11 Benefits - Eliminate the district paying $200/credit for teachers to renew their license.  Historically, teachers renewed their licenses through credits. Now teachers can use the PDP model or the new district model (currently being created with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction) to renew their license. (Potential cost savings $5,000)

#12 Athletics – A committee of coaches will be created to review salaries/stipends of all paid MS/HS coaches. The committee will decrease the overall cost of coaching by $15,000. This could be done by elimination of certain positions, a flat reduction across the board, or other options. In the end, $15,000 will be reduced from coaching salaries. 

#13 Athletics – The district will implement athletic participation fees at the MS/HS level at $10/student/sport with no family cap.

#14 Academics – Currently the district is broken up as follows: 4K-5th is considered elementary and 6th-8th grade is considered middle school. Starting with the 2017-2018 school year, the 5th grade will become part of the middle school. (Potential cost savings $65,000)

#15 School days – During the regular December monthly board meeting, the School Board approved the district calendar for the 2017-18 school year. The new calendar has a reduction of 5.3 days compared to the 2016-17 school year for staff. As an offset, the wages and salaries will be frozen for next year at the current rates. (Potential cost savings $50,000)

#16 Athletic workers – Currently game supervisors/managers are paid $40 per event.  This will be reduced at the HS level to $30/per event and to $20 at the MS level. (Potential cost savings $750)

#17 Academics - The district will reduce Phy. Ed. to the state requirement only and will combine FACS (Family and Consumer Science) with other CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs. Total reduction will be 1.0 FTE. (Potential cost savings $70,000)

#18 Music - Reduce band to 0.5 FTE for the 2017-18 school year. (Potential cost savings: $24,000)

#19 Hourly certified rate - Currently certified staff are paid $24.51/hour, per a formula, for teaching summer school, after school tutoring, and other duties. This wage will be reduced to $20/hour and the formula will be eliminated. (Potential cost savings: $5,000)

#20 Advisorships – Align class advisorships compensation; eliminate the transition coordinator position (part of normal job duties), and reassess all positions. (Projected savings $2,000)

“The board made many difficult decisions this past month in order to eliminate next year’s budget deficit,” said Sailer. “While this has eliminated the need for a referendum next year, the board and administration concede that a referendum will be necessary in 2018-19 as a result of continued declining enrollment.  The district will continue to lose about 10 students per year for the next six years. If trends continue, the district will move from a current enrollment of 286 students to 224 students by the 2022-2023 school year. The board will continue to review internal and external contracts and look for ways to raise additional revenue within the district’s current ability. The board understands if additional reductions are made, there will be significant loss of student learning and opportunities. If student enrollment projections hold true, a referendum is inevitable.

“The board hopes after people read this list they understand these decisions were extremely hard to make and a lot of discussion took place on each item. The board also wants people to understand that this district is truly in a better position than it has ever been in with regards to academics and co-curriculars.  This is verified through state testing and the state report card, comparing our district’s scores with conference and nearby schools; with results of the recently completed school climate survey completed by staff; having winning athletic programs with really bright classes coming up through the ranks; students attending Nationals in multiple events; multiple student out-of-state class trips broadening their horizons; etc. Although these reductions are and will be extremely challenging, the heart of the district is stronger than ever!”

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