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home : news : county/state news June 25, 2016

12/6/2012 7:30:00 AM
District outlines cuts to be made if voters reject referendum

Marcus Nesemann
Reporter/Photographer


As it moves closer to a planned February 2013 referendum, the School District of Rhinelander Board of Education is getting more specific about the impact of a "no" vote.

During a special meeting Monday, the board approved $3,458,742 worth of cuts to curriculum and activities that will be implemented if voters reject a proposed three-year, $12 million referendum.

The cuts include the closure of the district's two charter schools and the loss of electives (Information Processing, German, and Spanish 4, for example, would no longer be offered at the high school) from the elementary to high school level.

None of the district's 21 sports offerings are slated to be cut, but the district plans to raise the activity fee for high school students to $90 per child, per activity (an increase of $65), if the referendum fails.

The cuts would be necessary to fill a $3 million shortfall the district is facing for the 2013-'14 school year. During a separate meeting Tuesday, the board approved the language of the referendum question (see related story).

$3.45 million is more than the administration expected to cut when referendum talks began in November but school officials said the district has to plan for the possibility of an even greater shortfall should it lose students to open enrollment following a failed referendum.

"We could easily be looking at $3.5 (million) with the loss of students," board member Mike Roberts said.

"We went back to the drawing boards for more specific ideas," Superintendent Dr. Roger Erdahl added. "This goes to the core of our district. We're talking 30-plus students in many of our classrooms. If we lose electives, it's very hard to re-establish them a year from now or two years from now. When they're gone, they're gone - at least that's been the history of school districts that have gone down this road. These would never fit the definition of recommendations, this is a 'solution.' And I agree with the parents who have talked about the implications of open enrollment. I think there could be significant losses through open enrollment for a variety of reasons as we look at the list. The narrative indicates in some cases it could wipe out whatever savings are realized."

While the district's list of cuts is extensive, two things were noticeably absent - cuts to the administration and cuts to employee benefits.

As it stands now, the board says those two options are off the table.

Regarding the administration, Board President Ron Counter said any cuts made wouldn't affect the 2013-'14 budget due to the way administration contracts are constructed and regulated. Cuts to the administration will be on the table next year should the referendum fail, Counter said.

"All administrators are governed under state statutes and so we would have had to actually non-renew them last year to affect this upcoming year," Counter said. "We do plan on going forward talking about it."

Fellow board member Judy Conlin said multiple cuts at the administration level have already been made. There's really not a lot left to cut there, she said.

The district has reduced its administrative staff by 38 percent since 2007.

"With the administrative cuts that we've made, the current administrators that are left have taken on those duties. The duties didn't go away when the positions went away," Conlin said.

"For example, when we eliminated the human resources position, Dave (Wall, assistant superintendent) picked up the human resources responsibilities for the professional staff and Marta (Kwiatkowski, business manager) picked them up for the support staff. We had a technology education administrator that we cut and divided those duties amongst teachers and other administrators. I think that's important for people to understand, their workload, in essence, almost doubled."

Board member Merlin Van Buren also spoke about the previous cuts to administration.

"We have cut administration and we've cut it drastically and there's not a whole lot more there we can do," he said.

Roberts concurred.

"We could cut all our administrators and have nobody running the district and we'd still have to cut another $1.8 million and we'd still be cutting programming," Roberts said. "We're already pretty lean with administration. Administration contracts run for two years and we can't cut administrative contracts and have an effect on next year's budget if they're under contract. So, that's one of the reasons there's not administrative cuts on this list,"

As for employee benefits, Counter said with the fate of Act 10 still in limbo the district has been advised to stay away from that subject.

"There's a lot of people in town that think we can go take benefits from teachers and take their wages," Counter said. "On Friday, Sept. 14, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas overturned virtually all provisions of Act 10 and declared them unconstitutional. So, ... at this point, we've been advised by legal counsel to stay clear of that question."

Kwiatkowski pointed out that district employees have already seen their paychecks shrink.

"In 2011-'12, we got over $500 less per student, a 5.5 percent decrease. A majority of that money came from the employees. On average, our employees, their compensation went down by 8 percent district-wide," Kwiatkowski said.

Conlin said that figure is substantial.

"Our staff has taken an 8 percent cut already and I don't think we should just ignore that reality. 8 percent is substantial," Conlin said.

Here is the list of cuts approved Monday:

Eliminate the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program. This would mean a reduction of 1.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) teacher in each grade at each of the district's three elementary schools. The district said this cut would greatly diminish the returns it has seen with programs such as Response-to-Intervention. In a memo, the district noted those efforts "are heavily dependent on data gathering and data mining which then leads to child-specific interventions and outreach to families. Realistically, it will be more difficult for each remaining teacher to complete these additional duties. This is a step back into our history when we were not as responsive." The cut would save the district $800,000.

The district would cut art, music, and physical education for kindergarten through fifth grade at all three elementary schools and eliminate the 7.0 FTE teachers that ran those courses. The duties of teaching these courses would fall upon the classroom teachers. The cut would save $560,000.

The district would make the following cuts at James Williams Middle School: Cut 0.3 FTE from physical education resulting in class sizes of over 30 students, eliminate foreign language offerings (0.2 FTE), eliminate Computer Literature course (0.35 FTE), reduce the number of course offerings for art to one per grade (0.35 FTE), combine the courses of Teen Topics and Teen Living into one class which would eliminate elements of both courses (0.1 FTE), eliminate Teen Finance course (0.15 FTE), eliminate small group and individual band lessons and increase band class sizes (0.8 FTE), combine all technology education courses into one course (0.1 FTE), eliminate reading intervention classes (0.5 FTE), eliminate intervention and preventions services specialist (0.8 FTE), and eliminate remedial math classes in sixth grade (0.2 FTE). The cuts would save a combined $308,000.

The district would make the following cuts at Rhinelander High School: eliminate physical education electives and increase class sizes (0.5 FTE), eliminate German and the fourth year of Spanish (1.0 FTE), eliminate art electives and increase the remaining class sizes (0.3 FTE), eliminate family and consumer science electives (0.5 FTE), eliminate Information Processing course (1.0) FTE, eliminate band lessons during the school day (0.2 FTE), eliminate technology education electives and increase class sizes in remaining classes (0.5 FTE), reduce elective offerings for English (including reducing advanced placement classes) and increasing class sizes in the remaining courses (1.0 FTE), and reduce elective offerings for Social Studies (including reducing advanced placement classes) and increasing class sizes in the remaining courses (0.5 FTE). The cuts would save a combined $440,000.

Reduce spending on all activities. This would increase the activity fee for high school students to $90 per child, per activity, and raise the activity fee for middle school students to $50 per child, per activity (an increase of $30). It would also eliminate one away non-conference event for all athletic teams, as well as eliminate the Activities Secretary. Furthermore, it would eliminate assistant coach positions for football (two positions), boys' tennis (one position), girls' tennis (one position), track (two positions), boys' hockey (one position), mock trial (one position), and drama (one position). Finally, all co-curriculars would be responsible for funding their own personal service line items, i.e. ticket sellers, crowd control, time keepers, and book keepers.

Close both charter schools. This would eliminate the charter administrator position (0.5 FTE) and 11 teachers.

To see the list of cuts and other materials on the 2013-'14 budget, visit the district's website at www.rhinelander.k12.wi.us.

To discuss or not to discuss

One board member was opposed to discussing cuts before the district knows the outcome of the referendum.

Board member David Holperin argued the district should wait until the referendum results are in before discussing the specifics surrounding the cuts.

Holperin said that since the board already decided and announced last month that it will make over $3 million worth of cuts should the referendum fail, this time should be spent waiting for the results of the referendum vote and hearing feedback from the public regarding the cuts.

"This second motion (from the November meeting that approved making the cuts) is a broad outline of program, elective, classroom, and other reductions or eliminations that can serve to supply the taxpayers enough of a description as to define what is likely to be lost if the referendum should fail," Holperin said.

"(The discussion proposed for) tonight's meeting is, in my opinion, completely putting the cart before the horse. We won't know the outcome of the referendum for at least two more months, but between now and then, I think we're likely to get a great deal of community feedback, important useful information, both positive and negative, on the various ways in which we may want to structure our 2013-'14 budget absent the passing of the referendum."

If the board approves the cuts it will be committed to following through on them if the referendum fails, Holperin noted.

"I think we should all be concerned that if we're too specific now in defining exactly what the consequences are going to be in the event of a failed referendum, we will be so committed as to even consider any other viable, workable, or practical solution based on the process and based on community feedback leading up to the vote," Holperin said.

He then made a motion to hold off on any more discussions regarding cuts until after the results of the referendum are known.

Many others on the board saw the issue in a different light, arguing that the public needs to know specifically what will be cut should the referendum fail.

"What we voted on last time was broad, general strokes. The problem is, and I've gotten this question probably 30, 40 times since that vote, is what does this mean? What will we be losing?" Roberts said.

Conlin also said she believes it is absolutely necessary that the board outline, very specifically, what will be cut so the voters are fully informed when they walk into the polls. If they don't have all of the information, Conlin said, history shows that the referendum will have no chance of passing.

"The history in this community has been, unless they know specifically what's going to happen if a referendum is not passed, it won't stand a chance of being passed. The community needs to know," Conlin said. "The community deserves to know, if the referendum in fact does not pass, what will be the consequences - and not a nebulous, 'something will happen,' because as long as it's nebulous, it's not going to be considered real. The community is going to vote based on the information presented to them and I think we need to give them as accurate information as possible."

Van Buren also spoke out in favor of giving the public specific information about the potential cuts.

"We do need to let (the community) know what's going to be cut so they aren't thinking, 'well, (the district) can pick up a million by cutting administration,' because that's not going to happen because that's not feasible," Van Buren said.

Holperin did not relent.

"We have already passed a motion that says this is what we're going to cut - we're going to cut electives, we're going to cut personnel, we're going to cut classrooms, we're going to cut some athletics, we're going to cut various activities. It's been laid out," Holperin said. "It's already out there as a motion and it's already out in the public domain. For us to go further, it boxes us into a corner. We come out of this referendum and it's passed, we're good to go. If that referendum fails, we're committed to the taxpayers to do what we said we were going to do and anything less than that is going to destroy the credibility of this board and I don't want to be a part of that."

Holperin's motion failed as he was the only board member to vote in favor of it.

Marcus Nesemann may be reached at marcus@rivernewsonline.com.



Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012
Article comment by: Erin Meyer

These cuts are truly appalling. It is indeed a wise choice to put the potential plans in writing for all to read as these things need to be put into concrete terms for the citizens of Rhinelander. As a proud 1995 graduate of Rhinelander High School, I had so many opportunities that students now lack. It is truly unfortunate that they are in that position through no fault of their own. To the voters: Please keep this in mind. The courses, amazing faculty, and activities that are on the chopping block are what prepare kids for success in the world. We are talking about their futures here! Please, don't allow these cuts to happen.



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