Recently in a Park Falls Herald news article it was pointed out that the school district budget for the 2011-2012 school year will have a very favorable impact on district taxpayers resulting in a substantial reduction in the school portion of the property tax. That is very true as far as it goes but the reason for this very substantial reduction is not because the district has reduced its expenses by approximately 20%. It is because the school aid formula, when applied after the new state budget cut aid to schools by over $800 million, resulted in a reduction of the amount the district could levy outside the revenue cap. The amount of aid that the district receives outside of the revenue cap dropped from $2,103,296 to an estimated $583,275! The restructured aid reduces the amount of revenue that comes from local property taxes. At this time it is estimated that the school portion of property taxes will drop by nearly 20%. Unfortunately, it creates an additional loss to the district of $740,000 that was not anticipated for the 2011-2012 year.
The shortfall for the 2011-2012 school year will be covered through the district fund balance, however, based on current assumptions we expect to have a budget shortfall exceeding $600,000 for each of the next two school years and dramatically larger budget shortfalls in 2014-2015, the year in which the 5-year consolidation incentive aid ends. Because these dramatic budget shortfalls leave the school board with some very challenging decisions to make in the near future, the District has begun a process of reaching out to the community to share the challenges facing us, as well as sharing the many opportunities the consolidation has afforded our students.
Since learning of this dramatic reduction in revenue in July, Board members and I have been conducting listening sessions. The purpose of these listening sessions is to have an open dialogue with members of the community regarding the many positive opportunities and programs we have for our students, as well as the financial challenges we are facing. It is the Board’s hope to hear from community members about what their expectations are for what they would like the district to look like and how best to address the financial challenges we face.
Most recently the Board held a listening session on October 25 at the Park Falls City Hall. Additional listening sessions have been scheduled for November 1 at the Fifield Town Hall, November 3 at the Eisenstein Town Hall, November 7 at the Shanagolden Town Hall, November 17 at the Gordon Town Hall, December 1 at the Pike Lake Fire Hall, December 5 at Peeksville Town Hall and the Town of Lake on December 8. Additional listening sessions will be scheduled as we are able to.
In addressing this challenge, the district has limited options available to it to address the anticipated budget shortfall. The choices available to the Board are:
- Reduce the budget by over $600,000 the next two years and by $1.6 million in 2014-15 and beyond.
- Cover the deficits through the use of the fund balance.
- Seek support from the community through an operating referendum.
- Some combination of 1-3 above.
I believe that in order for the board to consider option #1 above it needs to see what kind of impact a budget reduction of this magnitude would have on the school district. Over a period of a month I met regularly with the administrative team to discuss areas in each of their schools that we believe could be reduced. As difficult as this has been at times, it has been a useful exercise in helping us to identify areas that we think probably should be considered for reduction whether or not the district moves forward with an operational referendum.
As a result, below you will see a list of proposed areas to be considered for reduction. The first section of budget cuts will be areas that I have recommended for reduction whether or not an operational referendum is passed. The second group of recommended budget reductions is areas that I would recommend to restore in the event an operational referendum is passed. None of these reductions are pleasant and all of them make the mission of improving student achievement more difficult. However, it is my belief that the taxpayers of the district want us to look long and hard at any possible efficiencies we may be able to achieve. I believe they would want us to limit that which we seek to obtain through an operating referendum to only that which is really required to provide an effective education to our students. We believe the items proposed for cuts in the second category will be more damaging to our ability to provide a quality education for our students than will be the cuts proposed in the first category.
The proposed reductions that follow do not represent reductions that will actually take place but rather a scenario showing the type and magnitude of cuts that would need to be made to cover a $600,000+ budget shortfall. How and to what extent budget reductions will take place next year will be decided by the school board in the next month or two following additional community listening sessions as well as planned focus groups of staff and community members. Determining cuts of this magnitude is not an easy task and it certainly is difficult because it involves decisions that affect the livelihood of many good and valuable employees. It is also difficult because all of these budget reductions, even the ones in the first category, have an adverse impact, to a greater or lesser degree, for our students. However the board decides to handle this anticipated shortfall, I felt it was my job as superintendent to at least present a scenario by which the full anticipated budget shortfall could be addressed. Along with each proposed reduction I have tried to include a short impact statement outlining the effect such a reduction could have on the district.
Recommended Budget Reductions Regardless of Referendum Approx Net Savings
- Eliminate Class Act Charter School-1.0 FTE Teacher Reduction $54,250
The charter school was a very positive and innovative program that promotes project based learning. The elimination of the charter school will mean that that program will no longer be available to our students. However, the number of students enrolled in the charter school has drastically dropped so that, based upon the Rural Community School Alliance (RCSA) definition, we have one student enrolled at this time. There are several other students who take one or two classes through the charter school. Given the numbers involved in the program and the need to make very drastic budget reductions I cannot support continuing the charter school in its present format and staffing. Recently the charter school received the honor of being awarded a dissemination grant, along with the other schools in the RCSA. Details regarding the use of that dissemination grant are still being worked out. One of the workshops that would be offered through the funding of that grant is a workshop on the use of project based learning in the classroom. It would be my hope that the legacy of the charter school to the district would be their trailblazing in the area of Project based learning and their dissemination of that as an effective method of instruction for teachers in our school district and others. We will need to devote some teacher time to students at risk of not graduating with their peers as the charter school has served that function this year. In any event the amount of time allocated for that purpose would be small in comparison to the FTE currently devoted to the charter school.
- Reduce .5 FTE Science Teacher at Middle School $26,000
Reduction in teacher FTE at the middle school will be absorbed by sixth grade teachers.
- Reduce 1.0 FTE Special Education Aide at High School. $14,600
The reduction in staff at the High School is due to reduced special education caseloads.
- Eliminate Elementary Librarian-1.0 FTE $29,500
Similarly to the Glidden campus we are recommending as a cost-saving measure the elimination of the librarian at the elementary school and replacing that position with an aide. Services to students in the library may be reduced. Classroom teachers may need to more closely supervise student activity in the library.
- Reduce 1.0 FTE Elementary Music $51,769
Elementary music instruction minutes would be reduced from 105 to 60 per week. Although this is below the recommended minutes of instruction per DPI, it is in alignment with what a number of other school districts offer during the week. All Glidden campus music would be taught by the one music teacher at that campus. The high school choir director would also teach elementary general music at the Park Falls campus. This results in a reduction of time available for lessons. There would be a corresponding 45 minute per week reduction in elementary teacher prep time. This reduces opportunities for collaboration among staff and administration as well as time available for class preparation and planning.
Reduce 1.0 FTE Cleaner Position and School Year Student Workers. $39,700
The cleaner position for a number of years had the washing of laundry as one of its primary job duties. Nowadays, students seldom shower after physical education classes. At the time when students showered after each gym class handling the laundry was almost a full-time position. In recent years the amount of laundry has reduced somewhat, but despite that, the person in that position has taken on a number of the other cleaning positions in the building during the day. The absence of that position will mean that other custodial employees will take over the laundry duties as well as the cleaning duties that had been performed by that individual. In addition, each year we have hired two student employees to work two hours per day after school at the minimum wage cleaning classrooms. The duties performed by these students will need to be picked up by the custodians as well.
- Reduction in Food Service Department $35,000
Currently the food service budget runs a deficit each year of approximately $70,000. Within the next month we will have a representative from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards review and analyze our food service program to help us find efficiencies that will help reduce our costs. At this time I am proposing that we reduce an amount from that budget approximately equal to half of the budget deficit in Fund 50. For purposes of reference the amount listed is approximately the cost of one full-time food service worker’s pay and benefits.
- Reduce the Extracurricular Budget by 10%. $16,000
Reductions in the extracurricular area will take place both in the athletics and in the other extracurricular activities. Areas that will likely face reduction include noncapital supplies, travel and hotels and the scheduling of some nonconference games. At this time we are planning on approving only in-state extracurricular competitions for funding from district budget. Out-of-state competitions or honor groups will need to be funded either by the activity itself or by the parents of the participants.
Proposed Reductions Recommended to be Restored Upon Passage of Referendum
- Reduce Tech Ed .5 FTE at MS $27,000
This would eliminate Tech Ed in the middle school in order to protect core subject areas. However, loss of this program at the middle school level may ultimately result in loss of the high school program. With the reduction of exploratory classes at the middle school, high school elective areas will eventually be impacted as students will not establish an interest in the subject area. Reduction of this program at the middle school level also is not supportive of engaging in partnerships with community businesses and developing Tech Ed courses that are responsive to the needs of local businesses.
- Reduce 1.0 FTE Family and Consumer Ed at MS and HS. $80,020
This would act to eliminate family and consumer education at the middle school and at the high school levels. It will reduce elective choices at both schools and will eliminate an option for students with an interest in a number of career choices that are explored in this program. Students will also miss out on some important life skills taught in this area.
- Reduce Administrative Contracts. $6,500
I am proposing that the high school principal and the elementary school principal have their 260 day contracts reduced to 250 day contracts thereby having 10 days off without pay during the summer months. This will result in less time available for the planning of professional development for the coming year, for the analysis of test data that takes place in the summer and the hiring of new employees that often goes on in the summer. If either of these positions comes open in the future it would be my intention at that point to propose reducing them to 220 day positions similar to the principal at the middle school.
- Reduce .4 FTE HS Math $32,025
This reduction would act to increase math class sizes to 24-28 students. It may also negatively impact elective availability to students.
- Reduce .2 FTE HS Social Studies $12,185
This reduction would act to increase social studies class sizes to 28-32 students. It may also negatively impact elective availability to students.
- Reduce 1.0 FTE High School English Teacher $40,550
Pupil teacher ratios in English class sections will increase to approximately 24-28. There may be fewer elective choices for students.
- Reduce .5 FTE Science Teacher at High School $26,000
This will result in high school science classes of 24-28.
- Reduce 1.0 FTE Elementary Physical Education $61,017
Elementary physical education minutes would be reduced from 105 to 60 per week. Although this is below the recommended minutes of instruction per DPI, it is in alignment with what a number of other school districts offer during the week. A third class of physical education would be offered each week by the classroom teacher under supervision of the physical education teacher as state statute requires 3 sessions per week. There would be a corresponding 45 minute per week reduction in elementary teacher prep time. This reduces opportunities for collaboration among staff and administration as well as time available for class preparation and planning.
- Reduce Transportation Budget
- Eliminate the late shuttle bus for sports from Park Falls to Glidden and from Glidden to Park Falls. $2,212
- Eliminate an afternoon route of fourth and fifth graders from Glidden. $3,076
- Eliminate a morning route of fourth and fifth graders from Glidden. $2,212
- Estimated fuel savings at four dollars per gallon. $9,360
Our transportation coordinator has made the above recommendations for cost savings related to busing. The elimination of the late shuttle bus for sports from Park falls to Glidden would mean that students and their parents would be responsible for picking up their children at the location of the practice each day. The elimination of the afternoon and morning route referenced were smaller routes intended to relieve crowding in other buses. Students will be able to ride in the other buses making the identical run, however, it will just be a little more crowded in those buses.
- Reduce Classroom Supply Budget by 10%. $6,500
- Reduce .5 FTE MS Secretary Position $23,686
This reduction would act to reduce the Glidden campus secretarial staff to 1.5 FTE. This would result in less clerical support to teachers and the redistribution of some duties currently performed by that individual.
- Reduce Union Clerical Staff from Eight Hours to Seven Hours per Day. $15,000
I am suggesting that we consider where possible reducing office staffed by one hour each day in order to effect the cost savings while still providing coverage for the most part in the offices. There will need to be some staggering of hours and "covering" for others. The office secretary in each of the schools is an important part of that school and the customer service that we give to parents and other guests to our building, as well as the service and nurturing they regularly give to the students in our schools. Based on current contract language, if we continue to follow that, reducing their hours to seven would not result in a proration of their received benefits. It would also have the added advantage of allowing extra hours at times when the work flow requires that without triggering time and a half overtime. This proposed reduction is of course listed in an area that we hope to see restored as this reduction, and all the others in this section, do not serve our students well.
- Reduce District Maintenance Budget by 10% $20,000
A traditional area that school districts often look to in times of financial crisis is the maintenance budget. While it is available and could be reduced on a one-time basis, doing so on a one-time basis means that we are right back where we started the next year and looking for additional budget cuts. In addition, if we go down the path of deferring maintenance over a period of years, we will put the district and its physical plant in the position of facing, in all likelihood, a separate referendum down the road for the purpose of taking care of deferred maintenance. Once again this is an area that I do not recommend reducing, or, if we do, that we do so in a very minimal amount if necessary to finish covering needed budget reductions.
Grand Total $634,162
This is a challenging time for our district. The consolidation has brought some great opportunities for our students. The financial challenges the state has given us make it more difficult to continue to expand or even maintain those opportunities for our students. In going over these proposed cuts repeatedly I have not enjoyed the task. Our meetings have been quite somber on occasion. However, I think we have made the best of a bad financial situation; and while I hope all these proposed cuts are not necessary, I think we have concentrated as best we could, given the charge before us, to continue to focus on student achievement and growth in core subject areas. As you review this list, the financial material from Lexi Witt, and the many positive opportunities available to our students contained in this newsletter, please feel free to contact me to discuss this situation and ask any questions you may have.