Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Lake Geneva avoids teacher, staff layoffs
Concessions lead to necessary budgetary reductions

by Lisa Seiser

March 10, 2011

Leaders in the Lake Geneva Schools have done what many other district officials in Wisconsin dream of being able to do.

Last week, Lake Geneva teachers, support staff and administrators agreed to a two-year wage freeze and to pay more for their pensions and health insurance in exchange for the likelihood that there will be no layoffs or reduction in programming in the 2011-12 school year.

With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts and repair bill looming, Lake Geneva teachers and staff agreed to reopen their contracts. The negotiations took about two weeks to complete.

“We feel we are in a really good place,” Lake Geneva Schools Business Manager Warren Flitcroft said Monday. “We took the approach that we needed to deal with this and get after it.”

Walker’s proposed budget lowers the district’s revenues by 5.5 percent of what is spent per student. However, Flitcroft said another part of Walker’s budget ensures the district will lose only 10 percent of state aid. In recent years, the district has lost higher percentages of those funds, which led to tax increases.

Badger High School’s revenue decrease per student is expected to result in a loss of about $900,000, while the Joint 1 Elementary District will lose at least $1.2 million, according to Flitcroft. The districts receive a combined $8 million in state aid.

“We calculated and came up with an amount of dollars we needed to make the numbers work and went forward with that,” Flitcroft said. “We talked to the boards and we had timelines. They had a choice, either layoffs or concessions. We gave them their choice. They wanted to open the contracts and renegotiate so there would be no layoffs.”

Lake Geneva District Administrator Jim Gottinger said without concessions, he wasn’t sure how many teachers and staff would have been laid off. But, it apparently would have been significant.

“That could have had a detrimental affect on educational services at the schools,” Gottinger said.

Flitcroft said the changes will affect the bottom line for teachers and staff by about 5- to 8-percent, but it was the best alternative administration could come up with.

“This is going to have an affect on everyone’s pocket book,” Gottinger said. “But, it is my job to make sure we have the best education and this was the best route to accomplish that.”

The teachers, support staff and administrators all are doing the same thing with their benefits and salaries, Flitcroft said.

Gottinger said 7 or 8 percent out of a paycheck is better than no paycheck at all, which appeared to be the opinion of most involved in the negotiations.

Flitcroft said the taxpayers of the districts should be happy next year.

“When the taxpayers get their bill, I think they will have a decent sized reduction,” Flitcroft said. “The cut in revenue limits well exceeded the state aid losses.”

Gottinger said negotiations with the teachers and staff were “not adversarial” in any way.

“We all wanted to find a solution to this problem,” he said.

He said school districts are dealing with the budget crunch and Walker’s proposals in different ways, but in general those in education are worried about the long-term effects on the field.

Gottinger said he was pleased an agreement could be reached so quickly.

“A number of people feel the profession is under attack and I don’t think that’s right,” Gottinger said.

He admitted the past few weeks, which included local teachers traveling to Madison after school and during weekends to join the protests at the Capitol, have taken a toll on the schools, teachers and administrators. An effort to reach a local teacher union representative was unsuccessful by press time.

“I hope it’s not reflected in the classroom,” Gottinger said of the budget situation. “It has been a difficult time.”

“I am real pleased with the board and the staff,” Flitcroft said. “Everyone came together for the community and the kids.”