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Elmbrook School District projects 2% drop in spending

Health plan change, school closing help

April 18, 2012

The Elmbrook School Board on Tuesday took its first official look at the proposed 2012-13 budget, which proposes a 2.07 percent decrease in spending, from $81 million to $79.3 million.

Preliminary estimates predict the tax rate dropping from the current $10.03 to $9.96 per $1,000 of equalized valuation.

The spending plan preserves current courses and staffing, aims to maintain maximum class sizes ranging from 25 in the lowest grades to 30 in middle and high school and provides a 1.1 percent increase in salaries for current employees.

A first-step view

Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Keith Brightman walked board members through a general overview meant to be the first step in several discussions scheduled to conclude with initial board approval May 22.

Two key expenditure decreases for next year include $1.26 million from closing Hillside Elementary School, a decision the board made in late 2011, and $650,000 in redesigning the district health plan.

"Without those two items, we would be having a very different discussion," Brightman said.

Like other districts across the state, Brightman credited Act 10, the state's budget reform bill that ended collective bargaining, for Elmbrook's ability to manage labor costs. He also was quick to point out that while the district's original projection of a 0.045 percent salary increase was based on a significant decrease in state aid, the district is recommending a higher increase for current staff.

"We wanted to increase it so that we could approach maintaining a good relationship with our staff and to be as competitive as we can in this unprecedented time," Brightman said.

Various salary models

The district has adjusted salary increases in other ways, such as not automatically increasing a teacher's salary based on obtaining a higher degree. Brightman said the salary challenge moving forward will be in monitoring the outcome of state educators and the Department of Public Instruction's recommendation of a salary schedule based on performance.

"I think it's going to take a couple of years or longer for all of that to take effect," he said.

Assumptions, expectations

In the meantime, Elmbrook's budget includes a list of recommended assumptions and expectations ranging from not using reserves as a long-term budget strategy, exploring grants and private-sector funding to increase non-property tax revenues and spending $400,000 for an estimated $500,000 facility upgrade in the current fiscal year.

Property tax revenues are estimated to be about $274,000 less, a 0.4 percent decrease.

Board weighs in

Board members had little to say about the budget, except to note that they look forward to the next couple of meetings, at which staffing is expected to be discussed in detail.

The board was more opinionated after a group of forensics students from Brookfield East appealed to them to restore travel funds that had been cut for the current year's budget. The students outlined how forensics helped shape their academic success and that having the funds helps bring teachers and other mentors to national competitions and would add value to the team's success. They estimated the annual cost for their team to be $4,986.

Board members questioned why those kinds of expenditures could not be managed by principals or department heads at individual schools.

"I don't think we want to be addressing this," said Board President Tom Gehl, who also reiterated other board members' comments that schools may need to address future travel support needs of all programs, including those of high-achieving students like those in forensics.

BUDGET TIMELINE

WHAT: Budget discussions, board approval

WHEN: April 24, May 8, May 22

PUBLIC APPROVAL: Annual meeting, Sept. 24

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