Bonduel balks at some school cuts

Board closes deficit partially
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Bonduel School Board members have approved budget cuts for teachers, busing and 4-K services, while holding back on other cuts that have stirred public opposition in the aftermath of a defeated referendum.

The board agreed Monday to trim $276,000 in spending next year for three elementary school teachers, other staff, one school bus route and daily 4-year-old kindergarten service.

Board members shelved additional spending cuts, however, that would impact student lunches, athletic programs, the elementary school principal position and a part-time music teacher.

Parents, teachers and others at the meeting Monday spoke out against cuts to their favorite programs, and many urged the school district to hold another referendum that could ease the district’s financial troubles by generating new revenue.

The board agreed to hold a special meeting April 24 to discuss putting an “emergency referendum” on the ballot.

Bonduel Village President Sharon Wussow urged the school district Monday to try another referendum, saying that the future of the public schools has an impact on the community as a whole.

“If the school does not survive, we won’t survive,” Wussow said.

The school district has been moving toward spending cuts ever since voters April 4 rejected a referendum that was designed to restore the district’s financial stability by allowing an extra $1 million in property tax collections annually over the next three years.

The measure was defeated by a vote of 708-602.

With more than 100 people packed into the high school cafeteria for Monday’s budget-cutting debate, board members heard contrasting arguments from the public about the prospects for another referendum overcoming opposition to higher taxes.

Chris Reinke, a school district employee and parent, said the longer the district waits to go back to voters, the worse the financial situation could become. Reinke urged officials to get another referendum on the ballot quickly as a way of demonstrating the community’s resolve to support public schools.

“We need to send a message,” she said.

Warning of a possible backlash to another referendum was Robert Krause, a county supervisor who once served on the Bonduel School Board.

Krause said opposition could stiffen if another referendum gives voters the impression that the school district is trying to “shove it down our throats.” He encouraged board members to give their current belt-tightening strategy a chance, at least for one year.

“You can make do,” he said. “There’s no emergency here.”

Struggling with relatively flat property values and declining student enrollment, the school district is facing a projected budget deficit of $454,000 next year. Without spending cuts or extra revenue, the deficit is forecast to grow to more than $1 million within three years.

The district serves about 800 students on a yearly budget of $12.4 million, which includes $4.3 million in property taxes.

Board President Jay Krull told the crowd that officials were not happy about having to consider difficult spending cuts to confront the deficit.

“None of these cuts are anything we like,” Krull said. “It’s the number that’s in front of us, and there’s no easy way of getting there.”

By approving only part of the budget-cutting package, board members left unresolved a remaining $178,000 deficit projected for the 2017-18 school year.

Parent, teachers and students voiced opposition to proposals that would have eliminated student lunches at the high school and middle school, dropped athletics for sixth-graders and some high school students, eliminated a soon-to-be-vacant elementary school principal’s position and cut a part-time music teacher position.

Supporters of the music program were particularly vocal about sparing the part-time music teacher’s position.

Teacher Tim Treptow, director of the school district’s marching band, said cutting the position would create extra work for others in the music department. Although he said the dedicated staff would pick up the slack, if necessary, Treptow also noted that some staffers already had gotten offers to switch to other school districts.

“I don’t know how long you’ll have us,” he said.

Faced with opposition to some budget cuts, Krull told the crowd that the school district has another option for closing the budget deficit: tapping into a fund balance that stands at about $1.2 million.

The fund balance is designed for emergencies only, and financial advisers generally encourage public officials to set aside a larger amount than what the school district has set aside. Krull, however, said the money is available if officials decide to use it against the advice of others.

“It’s not good,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world.”