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Aurora

Despite cloudy future, Bay School Board to plan ahead



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March 09, 2011 | 08:32 AM
Williams Bay — A $600,000 deficit is burning a hole in the district's pocket, and the actual effects of Gov. Walker's budget and repair bills are unknown, but the School Board is still planning.

Despite or because of all of the uncertainty surrounding the public schools, now is the time to get options down on paper, said Superintendent Fred Vorlop.

"None of us know where this is headed," he said in a telephone interview Monday. "There are a lot of twists and turns in the road."

Plan to assist

The plan will assist the School Board in making decisions, even as the financial future of the district slips and slides with promises in Madison of budget cuts and no tax increases, Vorlop said.

Included in the unknown effects are the budget legislation, which would cut state aid to school districts by no more than 10 percent, but also drop districts' revenue caps by about $550 per student. According to budget language the revenue cuts will equal 5.5 percent per student.

For Williams Bay schools, that could amount to the loss of $350,000, in addition to the $600,000 deficit, Vorlop said.

Despite the uncertainty, one thing is for certain: it still takes money to run a school district.

Even with its current projected budget shortfall for next school year, Williams Bay is facing either repairing or replacing the elementary school for $8.5 million, or $10 million, or $11 million or $12 million, and possibly another $2 million on top of that.

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And then there's the standard 20-year high school roof replacement for $1 million.

New elementary school?

Neither of those pricey items will happen right now.

But they are just down the road.

The new high school roof is scheduled to be considered in 2015. Meanwhile, the School Board is tackling the issue of a new or renovated elementary school, starting now.

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A referendum to raise the funds for the elementary school would occur in 2012 or 2013, with actual construction occurring in 2013 or 2014.

Maybe.

Other physical plant improvements in the proposed plan include replacing or upgrading the high school building's heating system, sometime between 2013 and 2015.

Vorlop said everyone thinks of the junior/senior high school building as being new.

And it is relatively new.

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But the school was built in 1995, and its electrical and heating systems have a life expectancy of 20 years, he said.

Replacement of those would cost about $2 million.

Other improvements would include upgrading the athletic field with a baseball diamond in 2013 with $320,000 in community service money, (already in hand); and upgrading the acoustics and expanding the seating in the high school lecture center in 2018 or later, cost unknown.

The first step to all of this, however, will be approving the plan in the first place.

Balance the budget

Superintendent Fred Vorlop, who presented the proposed long-range plan to the School Board Feb. 22, said the board will probably finalize the long-range plan in mid-April.

With that kind of financial hit possibly in the works, it seems appropriate that one of the first goals in the long-range plan is to achieve a balanced budget for 2011 and thereafter.

That may well mean cutting teachers and programs in the next year. Seven teachers, representing 4.6 full time equivalents, have already received preliminary nonrenewal notices from the School Board.

Administration staff might fall from 2.8 to 2 FTEs sometime between 2011 and 2015 and cutting maintenance staff from 3 FTE to 2.2 or 2 in 2011.

But the district will have to ask the voters for long-term funding support for 2011 and beyond, probably through a referendum.

And that means improving and maintaining communications with voters.

Improve communication

The plan proposes creating a school and community communications committee in 2011 to keep district residents in the loop about the schools.

Proposed for the period 2012 to 2016 is establishment of triennial written surveys or focus groups of residents to determine community views and the status of local education.

The plan also calls for more ways to involve residents in school-based programs, for example, through expanded fitness programs.

Starting in 2012, the district will begin to review consolidation options, comparing the costs and benefits of consolidation with those of maintaining the district.

All along, the district will try to maintain its programs and quality of education, even as it tries to find ways to fit its other costs into a constricting flow of revenue.

Academic goals include:

- Expanding student participation and success on college entrance exams sometime between 2011 and 2018.

- Pursue alignment of the schools' curriculum with mandated skills tests.

- Target 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math on state assessments for 2012 to 2018.

- Find ways to expand high school tech college offerings, foreign languages and the arts.

- Target 100 percent graduates to pursue post secondary schooling.

New technology

The trick with expanding academic programs is that everything else is contracting, Vorlop said.

"The truth is, we're hanging on by our fingernails now to hold on to what we have," he told the School Board in February.

Finally, the plan looks at new technology, such as SMARTboards or similar classroom electronics, and the plan also looks for federal dollars to help pay for those upgrades.

"The problem you have with technology is you need someone who can come in and fix that stuff," Vorlop said back in February. "Still, technology is the future of education."

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