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Committee to be established for referendum

Vorlop presents severity of growing deficit

June 09, 2010 | 08:38 AM
Williams Bay — About 30 community members gathered in the lecture center Monday to hear Superintendent Fred Vorlop make a case for why the school district will need to establish a referendum by late summer.

His suggestion was that the concerned residents form a referendum committee, establish leaders and activate group members to promote the district's need to make up funds for a preliminary $530,000 deficit projected for the past school year. That deficit is expected to reach $1.4 million by 2015.

"I'm going to recommend to the School Board to consider a September voter referendum," Vorlop said. "They have not yet voted on this issue and they have not decided on an amount for the referendum, which they would have to do as well."

But Vorlop did provide examples. If the board decided on an $800,000 referendum, the tax rate would be about $7.16 per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a $250,000 home, that would result in about a $1,790 annual tax bill just for the district. To raise $950,000 more per year, the tax rate would be approximately $7.29. That would be about a $1,822.50 annual tax bill. For $1.2 million per year, the tax rate would be approximately $7.55, which would be $1,887.50 annual tax bill for a $250,000 home.

Currently, the tax rate is $6.24 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which is an annual tax bill of about $1,560 for a $250,000 home.

The proposed referendum, which Vorlop hopes will be approved in September, is in addition to an annual $398,000 taxpayers approved in a 2003 referendum.

Vorlop said the district's reserve funds were expected to dry out by 2007, but it is still being used today.

"Now is when those reserves are disappearing," he said. "We'll have close to $1 million in reserves, however, dropping by about $300,000, we'll have a little more than $700,000 next year and now, by 2011 or early 2012, we expect to be out of reserves."

He said main reasons for the growing gap between operating funds and revenue lies with the continual increase in salary and benefits, which average in a 3.3-percent raise every year. In the past year, the Teachers' Association agreed to a 3.06-percent increase.

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There is also a lack of growth in district enrollment, so the schools will have a hard time getting more revenue from other sources. In fact, in March, Vorlop said the district expected to have a decrease of 10 full-time students based on a larger-than-usual 2009-10 senior class.

Several residents who were invited to the meeting based on involvement, brought up the athletic fields built in the last two years and how about $1.4 million spent improving the facilities for the football and softball fields affected the current situation.

Vorlop said those expenditures have not affected the current operating funds. He said the district borrowed about $500,000 of the cost, roughly $250,000 in private contributions, and the softball field was paid for by services funds — a separate account from the operating funds. However, the football field was paid for by operating funds.

"If we had not gone through with that project, it wouldn't change where we are today," Vorlop said. "I'd still be standing here asking for money, essentially. It wouldn't change this situation one iota — not by one penny. I believe we did the right thing then. If I'm wrong, then say goodbye to me tomorrow, but don't punish this community for a decision made about the athletic fields."

Vorlop said he also has heard residents suggest consolidating the district with another to solve the financial problems. That is nearly impossible to do with Big Foot or Fontana based on advice he gathered from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. He said Williams Bay would have to consolidate with Elkhorn or Delavan districts based on provisions in the law, but they may not be in favor because Williams Bay receives very little and decreasing state aid.

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Vorlop's main reason for the meeting is the cuts the district would be facing. Those cuts likely would include nearly all field trips, curricular activities in cooperation with Badger, and an elementary teacher for nearly every grade because cutting high school teachers would spread the courses too thin. The median salary and benefits for a Williams Bay teacher is $80,000.

But that would mean class sizes of nearly 30 students per teacher, Vorlop said. Currently the ratio is 16 students per teacher.

"I will tell you that will not help test scores," Vorlop said. He opened his presentation by showing how the district leads many others with high scores on assessments and ACTs.

Those cuts and reductions in test scores could mean the district would face losing students through open enrollment which means a loss in funds. The district has gained more than $450,000 in funds in the last three years from students who chose to attend Williams Bay rather than their own district.

According to Vorlop, the district has gained 68 students and 40 students in the village went to other districts.

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"There's a lot at stake here, frankly, and open enrollment plays a significant part of all this," he said.

Vorlop asked the attendees to come back Thursday, June 17, at 7 p.m. to the high school board room to further discuss the development of a referendum committee.

Walworth County Supervisor David Weber attended the meeting and urged residents to see how decisions made in the next few months will greatly affect Williams Bay schools.

"What we have to do now is polish the asset we have and make this work for the future of our kids," he said. "We don't have a General Motors that draws people in, we have our schools. Williams Bay provides opportunities to all students to take parts in all levels of academics, music, sports, science — the whole scope that leads rewards and benefits our graduates see in society and the rest of their lives. Some have even gotten into Ivy League schools."

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