School Board members decry state actions on schools
Members of the Stevens Point Area Public School District Board of Education voiced their complaints about proposed state legislation they feel will have a detrimental effect on the district and its students.
“This is a direct assault on funding for public schools,” said Meg Erler, board president, about the legislation.
Jeri McGinley, a member of the Policy and Legislation Committee, said there are several pending pieces of legislation that would impact the district, including increased loss of revenue for children attending private schools, as well as limiting referendums for school purposes.
The reimbursements issue is expected to have an impact of about $22 million on schools throughout the state, without time to comment by public, she said.
Erler said the loss of state money to school districts has resulted in 53 districts going to referendum issues in April. Districts in the area have gone to referendum, some more than once, she said.
“This district has not done that yet. We are becoming a ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ state. Districts without referendums are seeing money carved away by legislators day to day,” she said, adding that legislators in the area are supportive of public schools and public funding but those in other parts of the state aren’t.
She said the district still loses money, even though 70 percent of the students in the voucher program were already enrolled in private schools before the program began, so they didn’t leave the public schools, but the district loses funding.
The district is facing a loss of $482,295 in state revenues next year, she said, asking where that money will come from because districts can’t replace it. The state has laws prohibiting districts from raising those funds, she said.
Board member Angel Faxon urged board members and the public to call the chair and vice-chair of the Assembly Education Committee.
“The phone call is very simple,” she said. “It’s very simple and very quick. And very important. Just call and say ‘no.’”
Superintendent of Schools Ken Bush help up a sign listing the numbers of the chair, Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, as 888-529-0052; and vice chair, Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, 888-482-0001.
“The only way to exceed the levy limits is to have a referendum,” Bush said about legislation restricting referendums. “This (the Assembly bill) will restrict referendums to general elections only. If a referendum fails, you can only do it every two years. If a boiler goes out, you can’t go to referendum. It has to wait for the two years.”
Bush said the 2015-16 budget contained $1.5 million in deficit spending and that could grow to $1.8 million with the loss of additional revenues, with the state allowing a 0.12-percent increase in wage and benefit increases.
Tom Owens, director of business services, said school officials “have no idea of what the Legislature will do” regarding the next budget.
“We’re looking at a $123,000 increase in workers’ compensation,” he said. “We’re sitting on a razor’s edge with the budget. When the state took away the levy-setting option with levy limits, they gave the referendum issue. Now they’re changing it.”
He said Assembly Bill 481 deals with the referendum. “It would further restrict local control. We only have two ways of getting out of this mess. One, is to have relief from the state with additional funds. The second option is a referendum. The board has to look seriously at $2 million in a recurring referendum. The (levy) limit is plateaued.”
To show the situation, Owens said if the district gave 1,000 employees each a $500 raise, that would be $500,000 and Assembly Bill 481 would add another $482,000 to the deficit the district faces, and that doesn’t include increases in heat, electricity, telephones or other factors.
Erler said the state is telling districts to give a 1.2 percent pay increase next year, but in reality the district doesn’t have that amount. “To add 1 percent to the budget is about $1 million,” she said. “The school district is people intensive. We can’t automate jobs.”
Last year the state gave a zero-dollars increase per student, and that will increase $100 per student this year, she said. “In order to grow the district, we need to make a decision to look at the community to support the district, possibly through an operating referendum. The bottom line is we need to take a look at committed savings.
“As a district, we have been incredibly frugal,” she said pointing out the staff has asked for additional staff and found areas for the money to fund them. “We know we don’t have money there. We have to be innovative, creative to support initiatives.”
She said the district will have to decide if it wants to continue to make do with what the state provides and let schools fare as such, or go to a referendum to provide the level of school programming district citizens want.
4K classes cut to four days per week
The board cut the number of days the age 4 kindergarten classes meet to four, following the majority of districts in the area.
Superintendent Ken Bush said he queried 17 area districts and 14 have the four-day program, while three have the five-day program.
Board member Sam Levin said the reduction will result in a savings of $192,000 next year to the district. The district funds the program and contracts with 12 providers to handle the program, rather than handle the program itself. Among the savings is a reduction of one day in transportation costs.
Board member Lisa Totten said she received complaints that the district didn’t partner with the providers on the changes to the program, with the district making the changes, and then didn’t sit down with the providers and listen to their concerns.
Computer program will go to lease agreement
The board approved a proposal to lease computers instead of purchasing through an agreement with Sentry Foundation.
Brian Casey, director of technology for the district, said Sentry officials have agreed to continue to fund the program for the next four years and switch to the lease agreement.
As a result, the district won’t be retaining the equipment, he said, because it’s mostly junk and outdated after the four years of use. The lease agreement is favorable, and will cost about $426,000 annually, which Sentry has agreed to pay.
Board member Chris Scott said the Sentry Foundation deserves credit for the program, which a lot of school districts would love to have, based on comments she’s heard at state meetings of School Board members. “If Sentry did not fund this, we could not afford it,” she said.