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School Board working to close budget gap

March 26, 2014

Brown Deer — The school district has a roughly $550,000 budget gap to close for the 2014-15 school year.

Addressing the School Board on Tuesday, Finance Director Emily Koczela presented a list of four items which could help close the gap:

· a debt refinancing referendum tentatively slated for an August vote, which would shift certain debt payments out of the general operating budget and free up about $200,000;

· the district's requests for additional staffing, which are presently factored into the draft budget but could be removed at need;

· staff raises, which are pegged at the rate of inflation, or about 1.5 percent, and would cost about $175,000 in total;

· and staff professional development, which becomes costly when the district has to bring in substitutes for teachers who are gone for the day training.

"Each of them have enough money to make a difference," Koczela said.

The biggest contributors to the budget gap are:

· the loss of state "hold harmless" aid, meant to insulate the district against sharp decreases in student enrollment;

· loss of open enrollment funding associated with the district's consolidation to two buildings and subsequent lack of space to bring in open enrollment students;

· and unanticipated debt taken on last year when the district had to make emergency fixes to the high school roof.

The board gave informal consensus Tuesday that the staff raises should remain in the budget.

"Our retention is so critical," board member Leslie Galloway-Sherard said. "We want to keep our good teachers."

That makes the staffing, debt referendum, and professional development issues more important as the board approaches the district's annual meeting in August and the board's vote on the budget.

While there wasn't much discussion on details of the staffing issue, the board was generally supportive of Koczela's plan to emphasize evening, weekend, and online staff training in an effort to minimize the need for substitutes.

"I don't think the kids ever get as much out of the subs," board member Lisa Zielinski said. "Nothing against them, but it's a disruption."

When it comes to the debt referendum, Koczela said the board will need to give her direction in April so she can prepare the neccessary paperwork by May for a vote at the School Board. The subject will likely be discussed at the May meeting of the Finance and Facilities Committee, said Superintendent Deb Kerr.

Koczela said the timing of the referendum is favorable because an election already will be taking place in August, minimizing the district's cost on ballot printing. She said the plan would be to explain the advantages of the refinancing — mainly a significant savings on interest costs and funding freed up for classrooms — to the public over the summer and especially at student registration, which is near the timing of the proposed referendum.

"A referendum is never an easy job, but this one has its advantages," Koczela said.

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