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11/15/2012 7:30:00 AM
District moves forward with referendum (Updated)
Vote could take place as early as February

Marcus Nesemann
Reporter/Photographer


The School District of Rhinelander is headed back to referendum.

During a special meeting Tuesday, the Board of Education directed administrators to develop language for a $4 million recurring referendum that would be in effect until the state's school funding formula is revised.

Board members said the referendum is needed to fill the district's $3 million 2013-'14 budget shortfall. Although the district's deficit is $3 million, the board is looking at a $4 million referendum to ensure that all costs are covered.

The referendum language will be reviewed at a meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4. It is anticipated that the language will be approved so that the referendum can take place on Feb. 19, 2013.

That will allow the district to meet its timelines for layoffs if the referendum fails and cuts need to be implemented.

Currently, taxpayers are paying $63 per $100,000 of equalized value on the referendum that expires this year. If approved, this new referendum would add approximately $105 per $100,000 of equalized value to that amount.

The motion passed unanimously.

Knowing that it can't take a referendum to the public without making the consequences of a "no" vote clear, the board also made a motion to move forward with $3,010,218 worth of cuts that would be implemented should the referendum fail.

The dollar amount on the cuts could be increased as the administration was also directed to present specific dollar amounts regarding administration drawdowns and insurance changes that could ease the district's budget troubles.

The cuts approved would:

• End the district's participation in the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program, saving the district $778,835.

• Cut $181,930 worth of electives at James Williams Middle School (JWMS).

• Cut $335,810 worth of electives at Rhinelander High School (RHS).

• Cut $122,211 worth of electives at the elementary level.

• Close both charter schools, saving the district $1,115,692.

• Cut spending on activities and athletics by $235,050.

• Cut $120,345 worth of full-time equivalent employees (FTE) from RHS.

• Cut $120,345 worth of FTE from JWMS.

If the referendum fails and the cuts go through, the board will work with building principals to decide how to implement the cuts to electives, staff, activities and athletics.

None of the board members were in favor of any of the cuts. In fact, many of them said they worry reducing academic and athletic offerings could lead to a mass exodus of students from the district.

But, at this point, the board said, it has to have a list in hand in case the public is not willing to support another referendum.

"We need to go for a referendum, we can't make these cuts," Board Treasurer Mike Roberts said. "I didn't even want to vote on these cuts but I do agree that with the history of our referendums in this community, we need to lay out there what could be the potential situation if we don't make them so ... that the public can see what the referendum will save us."



How they got there

The meeting started with a presentation from Business Director Marta Kwiatkowski on the district's predicament.

The main point of the presentation was to show that the current budgetary situation in the district is not a result of mismanagement by the board, but was caused by inequalities in the state funding formula.

For starters, Kwiatkowski spoke about how the board was able to lower the levy by $1 million for the 1992-'93 school year.

However, that year also saw the implementation of revenue limits, which were put in place to limit the amount of taxpayer dollars that may be raised through state aid and property taxes.

Those limits are based on the previous year's spending, which meant SDR started off the new revenue limit era with a $1 million hole. Add that up over the 20 years the limits have been in place and the district has lost about $20 million in taxing authority.

Because of that, the district has had to cut over $11 million dollars since 2002-'03.

Other aspects of the state funding formula also hinder the district, Kwiatkowski said, including the fact that many outside the area see Rhinelander as a property-rich district.

"The formula does not take into consideration that the property values are high due to lake homes and not because of the income, but the formula only looks at the property values," Kwiatkowski said.

Because of the way the formula works, state aid continues to drop at an alarming rate, while the burden of funding everything falls more and more on local taxpayers.

Until the formula is changed at the state level, Kwiatkowski said, the district will continue to face the budget deficits it has seen over the past decade or so.

That is why the board decided to add language making the referendum recurring until the state funding formula is changed.

The board is also encouraging citizens to contact their state representatives to push for changes to the formula to increase fairness.



Public Comments

One of the district's main reasons for holding the meeting was to hear the public's thoughts and feelings on the proposed cuts and the referendum.

45 people came forward to speak. All of them were against the cuts, most spoke favorably about a referendum, and many held back tears.

Here is a sample of what was said.

"Electives are what keep most students engaged in and outside of the classroom," RHS senior Lindsey Lieck said. "Cutting electives will affect every single student, no matter what their interests are outside of the classroom. Elective courses are what make high school a higher level of education and they are what make us the people we become."

"Education is key in our community. We need a great education system to bring people to this community, to help Rhinelander grow and flourish," added Jayla Paulson, a junior at RHS. "Without a good educational program, we will not be attractive to new businesses or better professions."

"Why is music so important? Why are electives so important? They teach abilities most other classes can't teach you, ... they teach you social skills, how to communicate, how to work together as a group," RHS senior Ryan Lieck said.

"How I view high school is that it's like a big, blank coloring book. We don't know what's going to happen or what kind of colors we're going to get here, but the electives, they're like the crayons and they color for us the coloring book that we're going to have with us for the next four years of our lives. Considering cutting the electives is like breaking the crayons," said Kate Hardar, RHS freshman.

"I work at the hospital and physicians looking at coming to the area are looking at our education system, they're looking at our district," noted parent Ann Heise. "They won't come if we don't have a quality school system. I think we've been doing fantastic so far but I truly believe if we are considering getting rid of the electives, we are doing a huge disservice to our students as well as our entire community."

Another parent, Shishir Sheth, offered this statement.

"My wife and I moved here 12 years ago and we moved up here from Miami. We did not move up here because we thought the night-life here would be nice. We didn't move here because of the opera," he said. "There are many fine dining establishments in this town but we didn't move here because of those. When we heard about Rhinelander as a place to raise our kids, we were very interested in the school system and the more we looked, the more we liked and, truly, I feel blessed to have had my two older children go through the high school here. It is truly a gem. If these cuts go though, it will no longer be anything special, I don't think, and it will be a huge loss to the community."

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





Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012
Article comment by: Jerry Freeze

Lauren,
The city and schools have been in a long slow decline for at least 15-20 years now and as always there will be enough educated professionals willing to move north for the lifestyle.
Nothing will change until the tax base expands with more industry and more family supporting jobs!


Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012
Article comment by: Elmer Leitl

Well Paul, you typed a lot but you still haven't said much about a referendum. Only about a senior center that I couldn't care less about. You think this is the only town kids leave after they graduate and how many doctors made a comment on this article? Maybe your kids didn't want to have their taxes raised every year because of a school referendum. My kids all stayed in Rhinelander. Why don't you or anyone else talk about the $4 million dollar referendum when the shortfall is only $3 million? My guess would would be that if the referendum doesn't pass, then we will be presented with a $3 million referendum. God bless all the taxpaying seniors that put your kids through school.

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Article comment by: Paul Hartmann

Elmer, seems I struck a nerve. Amazing you haven't answered any of the other questions, or replied to comments about doctors actually being involved when yes, doctors actually were quoted in the article. Or you didn't reply to some of the kids who graduated and left Rhinelander and commented they wouldn't come back because of the negative feelings about the kids and school district finances. But to let you know: my father passed away last year at the age of 80. My mother passed away four years ago at the age of 76. So, I think yes, they were both senior citizens. My father was proud of a number of things: his six kids, his service to this country in Korea and Vietnam, and his support of the school districts in the various places he lived in his 30-year military career. He was very proud he supported every referendum Rhinelander placed on the ballot when he lived here. He did go to the Senior Center "twice" (his words) and after his second time there, his comment was: "I know drill sergeants who are happier than the people at that place." When the first news came out about buying land and building a new Senior Center, it was my father who said, "That is the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars ever. That should go to referendum just like the School District has to." So sorry Elmer, just quoting my father. For the record, my three children have left Rhinelander after graduating and none of them have any desire to return. They have seen the negative comments and feelings toward the School District and they along with those replying to your comments have no desire to return back here. They have no desire to come back to this community and try to move forward in an environment not favorable to moving ahead. Pretty sad and sorry state of affairs, and seems you don't live in the City of Rhinelander, otherwise I think you would have been commenting about the $12 to $13 increase in your annual tax assessment that you have no control over. But no comment from you on that. Again, amazing the City, the County, and Nicolet can just say, oh sorry have to increase your taxes this year. And sorry Elmer, you have no control over that. So glad you are concerned about my parents and sorry to say that yes, they were senior citizens. Really sorry my father isn't here to weigh in on this whole thing once again.

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: Elmer Leitl

Hey Paul, I bet your parents are proud of you, or aren't they seniors yet? I hope all the tax paying seniors read this article so they know they are just crabby old people that are lucky to have a senior center. I have paid my share of taxes in this county so I think I can vote how I feel. What is your agenda? I would be willing to bet the tax payers pay your wages. Maybe you think too much.

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by: Lauren Jerzak

I grew up in Rhinelander and coveted the education that I received. I also was involved in many extracurricular activities. Then, like many in my graduating class, I moved away to go to college.

While I knew the community at large was not invested in the school district at that time as referendum after referendum was shot down, I never thought it would get this bad. The referendums at that time were of an athletic resources nature. I had assumed that the idea of cutting all extracurriculars and non-basic school classes would never happen. This is truly sad for many reasons.

First, I am not sure if many of you know that many universities require a well rounded education with extracurriculars in order to be accepted into the school. Why would a community want to cripple their youth from pursuing college at a reputable university?

Secondly, in direct response to the point made about families moving back. My husband and I graduated over 10 years ago and both have employable and mobile careers. We love the Northwoods and its small town feel. Our family is there. We will never move back for the simple reason that the community has no investment in the education system. There are many others in my graduating class and below who have said the same things. Also, as a matter of point, even if MDs (who are not the only professionals who will not move to Rhinelander, but since we are focused on them I will too) went where they were paid the most, Rhinelander would be far from it.

People who are worried about property taxes, please ask yourself what will happen to Rhinelander if the school system continues to dwindle. While I do not think people will leave in mass after a failed referendum, I am sure it will continue to be a steady decline. Who will be there in 10 to 15 years to provide you with basic services? Who will be your healthcare providers? Your accountants? Your business owners? Your lawyers? Your veterinarians?


Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2012
Article comment by: Paul Hartmann

Wow -- here it goes again! Crabby old people vs. the kids who really need this. Elmer -- did you read the entire article? I don't think so. You just saw "referendum" and decided "no." Also Elmer, did you read all of Beth Ruetz's comments? Again, do not think so. Doctors -- yes doctors -- are quoted as saying they moved to Rhinelander because of the school system. Look at it this way seniors -- you are very lucky the Senior Center did not get put to a referendum and not just crammed down our throats. You had a building on the north side of Rhinelander to use so that whole issue should have gone to referendum as well. Think you would still be using an old building on the north side of town>?
So think about the whole picture when you tout "no." I am paying more taxes because either the city or county can decide to raise the levy to cover costs and the School District cannot. Think that needs to be changed -- amazing how the city, county, and Nicolet College can just "up" the levy. School District can't. So Elmer, all your buddies and crabby old folks -- look at the whole picture. When people and companies do look at the strength of the School District, or weakness of it -- well, only some to blame.


Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012
Article comment by: Beth Ruetz

Mr Leitl-
A recurring referendum means that the money would be needed every school year until such time as the state funding is re-adjusted to more fairly support the Rhinelander School District. The final wording for the referendum will be drawn up and presented at the next school board meeting on Dec. 4. If you are interested in learning more about the deficit and the facts surrounding the need for a referendum, I urge you to come to that meeting. Attending the meeting on Nov. 13 was quite informative and really opened my eyes to how serious an issue we have.

In addressing your comment about where doctors move and that they move based on where they can make more money, I would direct you back to the article we are commenting about. Shishir Sheth was quoted in that article about moving here from Miami 12 years ago. He is an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor here in Rhinelander. He moved here largely due to the education that Rhinelander could offer his children. One can only assume that he could have made more money living in Miami, so I don't think your theory about doctors moving only where they can make more money is very valid.

In response to your request for me to name a company that would not move here if the referendum does not pass, I will simply say that I cannot possibly predict that, as it has not happened yet. And I cannot name a company that I do not know is even considering moving here. The same goes for your question about who has moved away. The referendum has not happened yet, so no one has moved away for that reason.


Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012
Article comment by: Jeremy Walker

Elmer, maybe you should do some research. School systems have a huge effect on businesses and health care providers coming to a certain area. People do not want their children educated in a poor school district. They want quality education and extracurricular activities for their children. It's time people like you and other closed-minded people start thinking about the big picture and not the flash in the pan.

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012
Article comment by: Elmer Leitl

Beth Ruetz, since you are the sarcastic one and seem to like to be judgmental, could you please explain what a recurring referendum is. I just want to make sure I fully understand. Then maybe you can tell me how many people you know who moved away because our school isn't up to your standard and name a company that would not bring its business here for that reason. I would be willing to bet the best doctors go where the money is, not the best high school.

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Durring

Elmer and Floyd - wow, great attitude. And it's a wonder why children don't respect their elders anymore.

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012
Article comment by: Marina Benoy

I was born and raised in Rhinelander and have always been proud to claim my Hodag heritage. The schools have also been something to be proud of. The educational opportunities provided by the school district will allow our children the tools to be whatever they want to be. Hopefully, many of them will return to raise their families, as I have. However, if the community does not support the schools and our future citizens, then Rhinelander will no longer be anything special. Instead, it will become another depressed town with little hope and no future. It is obvious that the State of Wisconsin has no intention of supporting Northern school districts. Therefore, this community needs to step up and work together. I urge all community members to educate yourselves and go to the school board meetings. Everyone should realize what is at stake.

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012
Article comment by: Linda Jerzak

Those of you voting "no" on this referendum may want to consider what is going to happen to your property values when families no longer want to raise children here. When we cannot recruit professionals such as physicians to work in our hospital/clinic because of the poor quality of the schools.
My children are grown and gone, but I am still part of this community, and want to ensure a good education for the children coming up. I will vote "yes."


Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Article comment by: Beth Ruetz

I truly wish that people stating they will vote "no" would educate themselves about what these cuts will do to our kids, our teachers, our families and our entire community. The fallout will be far reaching and devastating. Think about how Rhinelander will attract doctors to the area if our education system does not offer the basic things required to even be accepted into the UW system. The last time I checked, retired people need doctors more than others in the community.

Not only will attracting new residents become difficult, but many current residents will move away for better educational opportunities. And guess what? Your taxes will go up then too, because there will be fewer people to pay those taxes. If you have a problem with educating America's future leaders, that says a lot about you, and it is not something to be proud of.


Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Article comment by: Robyn Tonkin

Wow. I thought Scott Walker had solved all the problems with school funding and all the schools now were partaking of a statewide surplus of funds for education. That's what we were told last year. That's what I heard when I was advocating the Scott Walker recall. What happened? Judging by the suggested funding cuts, there is now, one year on, a terrible budget shortfall. Hmmmm...

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Article comment by: Jeremy Walker

Remember who will be taking care of you in the future. Children who go to school to get an education provide vital services to the seniors in this area. We all do not like to pay more in taxes but it is money well spent for a child to have an education.

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Article comment by: Elmer Leitl

I will be the second no vote. This has to stop somewhere. The tax payers in this county are taxed to the hilt now. Let's tax the seniors on a fixed income some more. I vote for the cuts!

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Article comment by: Floyd Estelle

I am fully ready to vote right now and it will not be "yes."



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