More referendum and finance related news from around the state.
The first item is from Monroe, where they have a referendum on the ballot April 3d and the superintendent has just resigned. I think his comments are worth reading:
Jefson said the school board and the district are best to seek “the best candidate,” whether internal or external. He said he knew of one individual within the district who was interested in the superintendent’s job, but wouldn’t provide a name. He guessed there would be a large pool of candidates from which to choose.
“Obviously, a successful referendum will attract a larger pool, because it makes a statement about the community: the community supports its schools,” Jefson said. “If it fails, it doesn’t say the community doesn’t support its schools, but it raises questions.”
Jefson admitted the superintendent may encounter some challenges coming in after the referendum.
“It’s definitely not the ideal situation to be walking into, if the referendum fails,” he said.
From Wisconsin Heights, the aftermath of a failed referendum:
District officials said that squeezing $700,000 out of next year’s budget alone means chopping elective course offerings, hours for hourly and professional staff and some sports, like varsity soccer and freshman football. Junior varsity sports budgets will get cut, too. Larger class sizes will be another tangible impact, officials said.
Even with the cuts, the school district said its deficits will total more than $5.5 million at the end of four years. School leaders said the referendum fix would have been short-term, but still would have bought them time to keep programming going while the state tackles the larger issue.
“It would give the Legislature time to find their backbones and actually do something about school funding,” Beil said.
But Sears-Hacker said that the short-term fix doesn’t get at root changes that are needed.
“To keep our feet on solid ground, we have to make changes now,” she said.
Some referendum opponents said that if systematic cuts are made now, perhaps some cuts in things like sports could be restored in a year or two. But school officials wondered if by then it will be too late.
They fear cuts to educational quality will push students to opt out of the district, thus making the state aid budget deficit even worse.
School leaders said they hope to meet with referendum opposition leaders to discuss the reasons behind the vote and get their suggestions on what should be done next
In Janesville, after a successful building referendum the Board is grappling with cuts. Sounds familiar. We need school board members who like Veshinsky understand the dire state finance situation. These excerpts are long and taken from an editorial and a news report (linked above)
Board members seemed to agree with board President Dennis Vechinsky, who said he went through the district phone directory and couldn’t find a single position he thought should be cut.
However, the board had no choice but to cut, because the state’s school-funding laws don’t keep pace with the district’s annual cost increases.
“I assure you that the people up here aren’t taking this lightly. This is nasty stuff,” Vechinsky said to the audience of about 45 who enthusiastically applauded after each speaker pleaded for a particular program or position.
“If I could raise the million-nine by crawling from here to Beloit on broken glass on my hands and knees, I’d do it, and I’d start now,” Vechinsky said.
Vechinsky noted another round of budget cuts is expected for the 2008-09 school year, and he predicted 98 percent of the cuts will be from the staff.
Vechinsky said the adjustment would be difficult, but he believes the result will be good because of the district’s employees.
Superintendent Tom Evert suggested the district use this painful episode as an opportunity to unite for change at the state level so school boards across the state don’t have to go through this again.
New spending, particularly to start two more charter schools, added to the budget pinch. Even the federal government seems to think that throwing money at new programs such as charter schools looks better to voters than shoring up funding for old mandates such as special education.
Some people encouraged Janesville to tap the reserve fund. The board wisely struck a compromise Tuesday, using reserve money only for the charter schools’ startup costs. Dipping into reserves to pay ongoing expenses would have only delayed the inevitable and depleted money needed to keep a favorable bond rating and avoid short-term loans for cash-flow needs.
The bad news is that Janesville faces an ongoing problem common among many area districts. Enrollment, in large part, determines revenue caps. Districts with stagnant or declining head counts are battling tremendous financial squeezes as costs for utilities, fuel and health care rise faster than revenues.
Unless state legislators change funding formulas-and don’t count on that with ongoing state budget deficits-the challenges will only grow. Janesville officials expect even deeper cuts next year.
Board member DuWayne Severson suggests that athletics aren’t taking a fair share of cuts. That argument has some merit. The grade school All City Sing was salvaged Tuesday, but Severson indicated that if it goes next year, he’ll push to kill the annual grade school track meet, a tradition many graduates recall fondly.
If the board wants to cut an interscholastic sport, it likely would have to cut boys and girls programs of equal participation to meet federal law. And whether Severson wants to admit it or not, such a move might only cause students who want those sports to enroll elsewhere.
Remember, we are not alone!