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Bay district rejects request to boost school tax cap

September 15, 2010 | 08:58 AM
Williams Bay — Voters turned back a request by the School Board to increase the school district's revenue cap over the next three years.

The referendum asked voters to approve spending cap increases by $498,000 for the 2010-11 school year, $498,000 for 2011-12 and $890,000 for 2012-13 and thereafter.

Complete unofficial returns showed the Williams Bay district electors refused with 698 voting no, and 411 voting yes.

"That's terrific," said Lois Morava, a former School Board member and a member of the "kNOw School Referendum Committee," which was the organized opposition to a citizens' committee that campaigned for the cap increase.

Morava said the committee was not against the referendum because of the proposed tax increase. Rather, the group believed that the school board can do a better job of planning and cost-cutting than has been done in the past.

Morava said there were other citizens who were also posting fliers and signs in opposition to the referendum.

She said the School Board should use the coming year to review ways to cut costs while maintaining the educational excellence in Williams Bay schools. Now is the time for the school district to develop a "plan B," she said. She also suggested the School Board might negotiate a pay freeze with the teachers.

"I think this is going to be a wakeup call to the School Board," Morava said. "It's not going to be everything as usual."

Superintendent Fred Vorlop agreed with that last assessment. Although the results were still not final by 10 p.m., Vorlop agreed that the die had been cast. No tax increase was on the way to prevent future budget cuts.

When asked why he thought the referendum failed, Vorlop blamed the recessionary climate.

"These are difficult economic times to ask for a tax increase. We understand that," Vorlop said.

The district is facing a projected $585,000 deficit at the end of this school year. The School Board will have to find a way to bring costs into balance, Vorlop said.

During one of the public hearings to discuss the proposed cap increases, Vorlop suggested that, if the referendum were to fail, the School Board might identify at least $200,000 in cuts that would not impact educational programs.

A superintendent's salary would fit within that $200,000, and Vorlop said he would consider stepping down as superintendent to get to that $200,000 figure.

"Certainly the School Board will want to minimize the loss of educational opportunities," Vorlop said. But, he added, that will be difficult.

During recent public meetings on the referendum proposal, Vorlop argued that without an increase in the state-imposed cap, programs and teachers will have to be cut.

The district's current budget reserve was created in 2003, when school district voters approved raising the district's revenue cap by $398,000.

The plan in 2003 was to build a reserve that would last until 2007 and then determine what to do next. However, an unanticipated increase in enrollments allowed the district to conserve its reserves three years longer than expected.

An unexpected increase in student enrollments, which brought in additional revenue, allowed the district to carry its reserve through this year. About $1.17 million remained in the reserve at the start of this school year.

But if budget projections hold, by the end of the 2015 school year, the district's deficit will hit $1 million, and as many as 12 of the district's 50 teachers would have to be let go, Vorlop had warned.

Vorlop said he doesn't expect the School Board to begin addressing the future budget constraints until October. He said decisions on actual cuts probably won't be made until after January.

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