School board members got down to the nitty gritty in budget talks Monday evening, as they struggled to approve a 2016-17 budget that doesn’t force them to dip into reserve funds to balance next year’s budget.
Superintendent Dr. Jim Behle brought forth the current budget estimates Monday evening, which estimates a one percent increase in students (60-70 additional students) and a budget surplus of $404,500. However, due to the increased student body Behle brought forth a staffing request for 5.66 additional staff for next school year, totaling $339,000. Had it fully passed, this would have left an estimated cushion of only $65,500, with some other staffing and salary issues still unsettled in other areas.
In addition to a full time nurse position, full time speech-language teacher and half-time special education teacher, which Behle had already built into the budget due to the necessity of the positions, the staffing request included two .5 time teachers at the middle school level for students who need additional math or reading support during their responsive hour and 4.66 new high school staff positions, including an addition to their administration in the form of a dean of students. The other 3.66 positions are teaching positions to handle the significantly larger class sizes that will be coming into the high school starting next year, where 519 students are currently registered for ninth grade this coming fall. This is the first year in school history that the high school has taken on a class over 500 students, and the incoming freshman class dwarfs the size of this year’s outgoing senior class of 414 students.
High school principal, Bob Driver, said the additional 3.66 staff members would simply hold the line on class sizes, even though many classes are already larger than they’d like, he said.
However, board members felt strongly that they didn’t want to dip into their reserve fund for next school year. The reserve fund is currently sitting at a healthy balance of nearly $11 million, which equals 2.6 months of their expenditures being held in reserve. The school board’s policy states they should have a minimum of $6 million in reserve, or 1.5 months of expenditures. The current long-term budget forecasts make it seem inevitable that they will need to dip into the reserves eventually to balance the budget, possibly as soon as the 2017-18 school year.
When board members saw how close next year’s budget was to going in the red, they started questioning which requested positions they could do without. In the end, the board approved all requested staff except the high school dean of students and a .5 teaching position at the high school. This keeps next year’s estimated cushion at about $165,000 rather than $65,000 had they approved the entire request.
Board members Gayle Weber and Jennifer Peyerl seemed more inclined to grant the staffing requests, noting that with the district’s conservative estimations they nearly always find themselves in a better budget situation than they forecasted months before. But ultimately the board decided they could reconsider the additional staff once they have some budgetary unknowns settled.
The elementary level is having the opposite scenario play out, with about 50 fewer students expected for grades 1-4 next year and a stagnant kindergarten number. Because of this, Behle said they are reducing their elementary staff size by three teachers: a second grade teacher and third grade teacher at Fieldstone, where Behle said they see the largest drop in enrollment, and discontinuing the two part time teachers currently working with fourth graders at Big Woods and Fieldstone to alleviate large class sizes during reading and math instructional times. Behle said the current projections show smaller fourth grade class sizes next year. He said the district would continue to monitor student numbers and make changes if larger than expected enrollment occurs.