Just some of the stories about the budget struggles of Wisconsin districts in the last week or so (linked and excerpted with emphases added). Bad all over.
If you want things to get better, do something, join those working for change: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids (SIGN THE PETITION!), School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.
Let’s start with Madison: “A horrible situation’ – Madison schools face $30 million budget hole
The Madison School District is facing a $30 million budget hole for 2010-11, a dilemma that could force school board members this spring to order massive cuts in programs, dramatically raise property taxes, or impose a combination of both.
District officials will unveil a list of possible cuts — which could include layoffs — next month, with public hearings to follow.
“This is a big number,” School Board President Arlene Silveira said. “So we have to look at how we do business, we have to look at efficiencies, we have to look at our overall budget, and we are going to have to make hard decisions. We are in a horrible situation right now, and we do have to look at all options.”
“I think what’s happened is the state of Wisconsin has effectively passed along the tax problem to the local level, in terms of either we raise taxes to support public education, or public education isn’t going to be supported,” said Erik Kass, assistant superintendent for business services.
Sauk Prairie Schools get budget input
“We’re going to have to start cutting some of these more main items,” [Superintendent Craig] Bender said, adding that every dollar in the budget is important to someone. “We didn’t start this process because we thought this was the best way to improve education, but we’re doing it though believing we’ll try to make it better wherever we can.”
“We can address things one-by-one as we have been,” he [Board member Sean McNevin] said, “or we can take a top-down approach,” and hand the administration a set number of cuts with which to grapple.
“Every fiscal cut we make tends to lay us on the road of mediocrity … but at some point it’s going to have to happen.”
[Baraboo High School Principal Machell] Schwarz said the district had been dealing with slim budgets for the past 10 years, however.
“We need to continue looking at the big picture, and stop focusing on money, and focus more on kids,” she said.
The Monona Grove school district is scrambling for ideas to plug a budget hole of about a million dollars, including a proposal to consolidate the Monona community’s two elementary schools, Maywood School and Winnequah School.
“We have to look at every option. We have budgetary problems just like everyone else because of the state funding system and the poor economy,” [District Superintendent Craig] Gerlach noted in a phone interview on Thursday.
“I don’t want to close a school. But we have a predicted $1 million deficit every year for the next five years. We can’t balance the budget without threatening programs in our district that people have come to expect. In the long run, we can’t afford the luxury of this school,” he [Peter Sobol, Monona School Board vice president] said, noting that $250,000 in annual savings could keep four or five teachers in the classroom.
The Oshkosh Northwestern reports “Financial turmoil for school finances across Wisconsin due to state budget.”
But, nearly one in four districts, including Oshkosh, chose to tax below their caps this year despite the budget squeeze. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, an independent research group, reports 98 out of 427 districts did not tax to their revenue limits.
The change, he [Dale Knapp, research director for the Taxpayers Alliance] said, likely stems from a significant financial shakeup in the thick of a floundering economy. State lawmakers last summer cut aid to schools for the first time since the state’s education funding system was established in 1993. Local property tax payers were left with the burden of making up the difference if districts didn’t cut spending.
“When you talk to residents about the cuts being made to your school programs and then ask for a 10 percent or higher increase in the school levy, there’s a disconnect there, and that’s hard to take in,” Knapp said.
Many parents and educators in the district, along with some board members, have complained that cutting more than necessary only exacerbated today’s budget problems.
“It’s time for us to tax to the full levy. I’ve thought about that for a long time,” board member Karen Bowen said during a January school board discussion about the issue. “I don’t see how we can do good things for our kids if we just slash and burn.“
More from Oshkosh. First, some videos from WBAY-TV (I’m not sure of the right order, but they are all worth a watch).
Students, Teachers React to Oshkosh School Cuts
For those who don’t watch, here’s the basic situation as described in this story:
The Oshkosh School Board had some difficult decisions to make Wednesday night — facing a multi-million dollar budget shortfall and making unfavorable cuts. The district faces a $4 million deficit.
In a late-night vote, after hours of discussion, the school board voted to increase the student-teacher ratio at North and West high schools to 25-to-1. This effectively eliminates an estimated 35 or 36 teaching jobs.
However, the school board rejected a plan to consolidate five of its middle schools into four buildings. Two elementary schools would close, and Perry Tipler Middle School would become an elementary school. Now, Tipler will remain a middle school.
The board took no action on the possibility of raising taxes.
A big crowd was on-hand for the school board meeting. About 80 people spoke out — many endorsing a double-digit tax hike to avoid drastic cuts.
The emotional audience was mostly teachers, parents, and students. Many said the cuts being proposed were too much.
“Some of the cuts are catastrophic,” high school senior Derek Maters said. “If you look at the depth of them, it’s reaching from people who are looking at a tech career to people looking at a college career.“
One more from Oshkosh: Dozens speak mind on proposed school cuts.
High school students easily accounted for most of the crowd at Alberta Kimball Auditorium at Oshkosh West High School, where hundreds gathered to hear the results of the meeting. One student presented the school board a petition with more then 480 student signatures opposing the cuts.
“For those who are not able to escape the district, you’re condemning their success,” said high school student Dereck Mathers, referring a report created by the high schools’ assistant principals detailing the impact of teacher layoffs on course offerings.
The report lists 43 West High classes and 67 North High classes that would no longer be offered next year if the resolution passes. The report predicts 787 West students and 1,142 North students would be impacted
“The problem with this is that if these courses are cut, many students will have to compromise for a lower level (education),” said Connor Schroeder, vice president of West High School’s student government.
West High School junior Ryan Steffen said he believes the cuts would create more impersonal relationship between students and over-worked teachers.
“I would like to speak for all the teachers because I’d like to not see them cut,” he said. “I know the passion they bring into work.”
Reading and hearing these students made me think of our older son. He is at West and MMSD high school students are in the process of choosing classes for next year. I told him that it is very possible some of the classes he picks will not be offered due to budget pressures. Hard to tell him that. He’s volunteered on referendum campaigns and for school board candidates. He did this because we taught him that being involved was a way to preserve and expand educational opportunities. We’ve won those battles, we even won the battles to “Take Back the Assembly,” but the Assembly took back the victories. Hard to tell him that too.
Budget forecasts suggest the Kimberly Area School District could have a $3.1 million structural deficit in five years should factors including state aid and teacher-to-student ratios remain unchanged.
[Scott] Gralla, [a consultant with PMA Financial Network] said there’s optimism that legislators will eventually restore higher funding levels to schools. Kimberly isn’t alone in the depth of deficits projected.
“This is not out of the norm at all for districts your size,” Gralla said.
This proposal may only be the beginning of possible budget cuts, as the district could face a deficit between $1 million to $3 million.
Whitnall lost about $1.3 million in state aid last year and officials are unsure how much they will get from the state for the 2010-11 school year.
About $720,000 worth of reductions are planned for next school year, about $485,000 of which will come from the removal or reduction of 11 Nekoosa School District teaching staff members, according to documents provided to the public at Tuesday’s Nekoosa School Board meeting.
The plan includes eliminating a math and technical education teacher position from Nekoosa High School, a first-grade teaching job at Humke Elementary because of enrollment numbers, and English and social studies teachers at Alexander Middle School.
Several other positions are likely to have hours reduced, including choral music and art at Alexander, and business education and family and consumer education at the high school. A high school counseling position being vacated this summer because of a retirement also will not be filled.
“We are absolutely in financial crisis,” Superintendent Wayne Johnson said. “Virtually every school district in the state of Wisconsin is a little worse or a little better off than we are. The state funding formula is flat-out broke.”
Wisconsin Rapids, Public has chance to comment on proposed WRPS cuts tonight
The Wisconsin Rapids School Board must cut about $2 million from its budget for next school year…
“We had cut as much as possible without cutting education,” he [candidate Joe Kasle] said. “We did not cut the arts, feeling that is part of having well rounded students. We had fund balance left to get through only 18 months. If the referendum had failed, we would have had to go to referendum again. After 17 years of 2 percent funding from the state and 4 to 5 percent increases in costs, there was just no money.”
That’s it for now. I have more links and stories, but this is too depressing to do all in a couple of sittings.
Don’t get depressed, get mad, get active: Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids (SIGN THE PETITION!), School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.
Thomas J. Mertz