Elmbrook School District representatives met with lawmakers in Madison on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the governor's budget proposal.
"It's very early in the political process when it comes to building the state budget. We're making sure Elmbrook's voice is heard and considered as we build meaningful relationships with our elected officials," Superintendent Mark Hansen said.
While in Madison, administrators and board members outlined what the district believes it needs to sustain long-term success, including an increase in per-pupil spending.
District planning ahead
Elmbrook faces a deficit of $1.8 million for the 2013-14 budget year if revenue caps are not lifted, as Gov. Scott Walker has proposed, and if salaries and benefit costs increase at the same rate as in the past.
Assistant Superintendent for Finance Keith Brightman said the district is preparing a balanced budget based on the governor's initial proposal, but it will have the ability to be adjusted as the state budget is processed and approved by the Legislature. From what he's hearing in Madison, Brightman said, he expects a final budget in middle to late June.
The district's budget will be built with prioritized items, so when final numbers are available, the district can tailor to the budget to fund the highest need items.
Brightman said the short-term budget gap will be easier to manage than what the district faces in the future. "We have some solutions that I think will make a lot of sense. I'm more concerned about looking two, three, four years out if a similar pattern holds."
In making its budget projections, district staff analyzed potential staff cuts. There could be as many as 11 to 45 layoffs between now and the 2014-15 school year.
Hansen is concerned about the staff reductions, saying any time there's uncertainty in workforce issues, it could impact the culture and climate of the organization.
"Throughout the many changes enacted in the last 18 months, the relationship between leadership and employee groups at Elmbrook has remained positive and collaborative," Hansen said.
In the biennial budget he introduced last month, Walker proposed adding $129 million in general aid for public schools, but without raising the revenue limits, thus ensuring that the state money would reduce local property taxes.
For traditional districts like Elmbrook, that means per-pupil spending would see no increase over the next two years.
Walker's proposal would expand the voucher program that allows public money to be used to send kids in certain school districts to private or charter schools. Voucher school funding would increase 9 percent, expanding the program to include nine new school districts, including Waukesha.
A separate $21 million program Walker has proposed would allow special-needs students anywhere in the state to receive vouchers to attend private schools.
Public school districts added to the voucher program would lose state aid and money generated by property taxes as students opt into private schools.
A couple Republican lawmakers recently offered an alternative to Walker's school funding plan; it would allow a statewide $382 million increase in revenues for public schools - $229 million from the state and $153 million raised via local property taxes.
The plan was put forward by state Sen. Mike Ellis of Neenah and chairman of the Senate Education Committee Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon, and has been gaining momentum. Under their amendment, per-pupil spending would increase by $150 each year.
Ellis said the plan would raise property taxes on a $150,000 house by $16.50 the first year and another $15 the second year.
Teachers at 'tipping point'
At the March 12 School Board meeting, Brookfield East High School teacher Patrick Coffey thanked district leaders for speaking directly to legislators on behalf of teachers and staff.
Coffey, the teachers union representative, said teachers have reached a "tipping point."
"I think we've trimmed the fat, and I think that we've trimmed into the muscle. And any more, we're going to get into bone, and I would hate to see that happen," Coffey said.
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