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Budget has board hopefuls' attention

Some want to cut, others seek better financial picture

March 23, 2011

Members of the Elmbrook School Board will have some big decisions to make in the coming years, on everything from how to deal with sharp drops in taxing authority to potentially closing an elementary school.

District residents on Monday night had a chance to hear the six candidates vying for seats on the School Board this spring share their thoughts on how to deal with those issues - and many others - in a forum sponsored by the Elmbrook Parent Leadership Council.

Three seats, two opposed

Three seats are up for election on the Elmbrook School Board this spring. Incumbent Kathryn Wilson, challenger Sandra Schultz and write-in candidate Nancy Kormanik are running for the at-large seat held by Wilson.

Dick Brunner and Ken Moe are squaring off to replace Gary Jones as the representative from Area I, which is the northeast quadrant of the district. Jones decided not to seek re-election.

School Board President Tom Gehl is running unopposed for re-election in Area III, which represents roughly the southwest corner of the district.

All Elmbrook residents can vote for all seats. The election is April 5.

School Board members serve three-year terms and earn $3,600 annually.

Focus is on budget

Not surprisingly, a big portion of the forum focused on the district's financial picture. Elmbrook is looking at an $11 million deficit over the next five years as the state seeks to decrease taxing authority and resident enrollment continues to decline.

But Gehl said it's important to remember that the district has not operated with a deficit in the past, and he said the district can find significant savings with changes in health care and labor negotiations.

"That's the single largest area (for savings)," Gehl said.

Wilson and Moe agreed with Gehl, saying the district could find a lot of savings through measures in Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill, which would require public employees like teachers to pay more toward their health care and retirement benefits. Both candidates also said they would be in favor of using some of the district's fund balance to address the budget shortfall in the short term.

But Moe, a former superintendent with the Brown Deer School District, said the district needs to look at the assumptions on which it based the shortfall because he doesn't believe "the deficits are as bad as they're made out to be."

'Everything on the table'

Brunner said the district needs to tighten up its budget process and said School Board members and Elmbrook residents - especially those with financial experience - should be brought in to take a close look at the financial plan.

"We just have to get a handle on what exactly is in there, and I'm sure we can cut things out," he said.

Kormanik, a former educator and program coordinator at Milwaukee Area Technical College, said it may sound obvious, but the district needs to stop spending money unnecessarily. She said all options - closing a school, increasing class sizes, changes to pay and benefits - need to be considered.

"We have to put everything on the table," Kormanik said. "Nothing is left off the table anymore because nobody has any more money."

Schultz said the measures in the budget-repair bill will mean a leveling off of the district's deficit - estimated by district officials at $1.2 million to $1.7 million a year for 2013 through 2015 - over the next five years. Schultz said she has talked with state legislators to get them to recognize the impact that state decisions on the repair bill and the biennial budget will have on Elmbrook.

ON TV

WHAT: Replay of Elmbrook School Board candidate forum

WHEN: 7 a.m., 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. daily through April 5

CHANNEL: Channels 13 and 96 on Time Warner Cable

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