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Brown Deer School District considers uniforms, tax increase

June 19, 2013

Brown Deer — What officials call Brown Deer School District's "transformation" — the move from three buildings to two and campus renovations funded by a 2011 referendum — could have students in uniforms and an increased tax levy in the coming school year.

At a Teaching & Learning committee meeting, followed by a School Board meeting Tuesday, school staff campaigned for district-wide school uniforms and several budget requests which would raise the tax levy by a yet-to-be-determined amount. In both cases, the underlying theme of the the pitch was the same.

"This is a turning point year for us," Superintendent Deb Kerr said. She added the referendum-funded campus overhaul has built momentum for progress around the district, and that uniforms and additional taxpayer investment would "create a culture for learning and higher expectations."

"I can't think of a more important year than the one coming up, for the school district," board member Dennis Griffin said during the budget deliberations. "(No other time) compares to the extent of changes that are happening this year."

The School Board will have its first look at the school uniforms topic at its June 25 meeting, and will have more complete budget and tax levy figures in early July, after the state Legislature decides on a biennial budget and state aid amounts are calculated for each district.

Skirting the issue

Kerr showed committee members a sample uniform set consisting of a black skirt, khaki skirt, slacks, and a collared shirt. Such uniforms, she said, would create a "dress for success" attitude, do away with the clothing disparity for less well off students, and expand upon the existing uniform standards practiced in athletic teams and physical education classes.

Perhaps most importantly, uniforms would lessen the frequent dress code violations which, according to Kerr, "take up an inordinate amount of time." Uniforms would be for all district students, elementary through high school.

District staff and administrators present at the committee meeting agreed.

"I cannot tell you the amount of instructional time lost over dress code violations," high school Spanish teacher Fran Peter said. "It's awful."

While district staff seemed supportive of uniforms, committee members ranged from wary to outright opposed.

"I'm not finding the community to be that in support of this," said committee and School Board member Michelle Schofield, adding that among other concerns, uniforms could quash creative expression: "We dictate what time they eat, what time they go to bed. Now we're adding this?"

Kerr's uniform timeline showed the School Board potentially voting on the proposal in July for a pilot in the beginning of the 2013-14 year and full implementation later in the year. State statute says districts need to give three months of notice before a uniform requirement can take effect. Parents can also exempt their students from the uniform policy, according to statute, and districts must offer assistance to students who can't afford uniforms.

The student population is 41 percent economically disadvantaged, a number which would reflect the percentage of students receiving uniform aid, said Kerr.

Board member Kevin Klimek said a July decision would be too quick.

"This has to be a bigger conversation," Klimek said. "This is not a one-month decision where we're going to alter the district."

Kerr said she will welcome community input as the topic comes up at more public meetings.

Waiting on the state

Board members will also need to decide whether to approve several budget requests which will likely increase the district's tax levy. An automatic 0.38 percent levy increase is built into the levy for the next eight years to fund the referendum-approved campus overhaul, but beyond that the School Board has kept out any increases to reward taxpayers for approving the referendum.

District staff petitioned the School Board to fund four staff positions, technology updates and staff development.

While board members, as they have in recent budget meetings, declined to commit to a specific percentage levy increase or dollar amount, they offered support for the administration's requests.

Griffin said the district "needs the right people in place," while Schofield said, "I think this administration has earned the trust of the community. I know you wouldn't be coming to us if it wasn't a real need."

Business Manager Emily Koczela said the board can't know how much those items will affect the levy until the state Legislature decides a biennial budget and state aid figures come into focus.

"Almost immediately after July 1, we should be able to tell you a number of things," said Koczela.

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