Shortchanging the schools?

Governor’s proposed budget creates problems for local school districts

By Tracy Ouellette


The recent release of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget for 2015-17 has school districts across the state scrambling to cut their budgets for next year.

Cuts in educational funding proposed in the governor’s budget amounts to $150 per pupil in Categorical Aid. For the East Troy Schools, this means a loss of nearly $260,000 in state funding for the 2015-16 school year. This loss will be on top of the proposed $450,000 shortfall the district was expecting in 2015-16, said district Business Manager Kathy Zwirgzdas at the Feb. 9 School Board meeting.

For the Mukwonago Area School District, the loss is even greater. MASD is looking at a loss of $700,000 next year. With the addition of the expected $945,000 shortfall in 2015-16, Mukwonago Business Manager Darren Clark told the MASD School Board Monday night the district is looking at $1.5 million deficit next year.

Clark told the board that decisions on where the cuts were going to be made needed to come quickly because teacher non-renewal notices have to go out by April 15.

He said that the impact on the district would be the financial equivalent of letting go of eight or nine teachers.

“Not that I’m saying we’re doing that,” Clark quickly clarified. “I don’t want people leaving here thinking that!”

MASD Superintendent Shawn McNulty said “very early in the budget process” but things were not what the administration had been hoping for in regard to funding.

“We’re all getting hammered by this budget proposal,” McNulty said. “It’s unacceptable – it hurts.”

Clark said he was hoping by June, when the state budget is finalized, that some of the money would be back.

McNulty urged the MASD board members to be proactive about the budget process and have some serious discussions with the area’s legislators.

Zwirgzdas over in East Troy didn’t wait around for someone else to have those discussions. She sent a letter to the state legislators on Feb. 11 asking for direction on where to go with this type of funding loss and voicing her concerns about the direction of education in the state.

“Any way I slice it, the last four years and the projected next two years show an overall six year span with average annual decreases between -0.53 percent and -0.84 percent. Eliminating 2011-12 in that span (the year of Act 10 and the greatest decrease) makes average annual increases between .5 percent and .82 percent,” she wrote.

Zwirgzdas then asked the legislators five pointed questions dealing with issues from teachers pay increases to funding the essential technology in the schools with less and less money. She also asked for a way to explain the situation to the taxpayers.

She pointed out with all the cuts in educational funding in the last 10 years, East Troy is working with an annual budget in 2014-15 that is about the same as the budget in 2004-05.

“East Troy’s aid has gone from $5,601,712 to $3,416,414. This is a 39 percent decrease!” she wrote. “After taxes came out one recent year in December, a nice gentleman came to my office asking how the schools could increase their budget by 5 percent or whatever the figure was on his taxes. He thought the tax increase was how much our budgets went up by. I showed him our budget didn’t increase. That basically we are spending the same, but we have less state aid so a property tax increase is what covered the difference to hold our line in spending. So at least one community member understands this now.

“But somehow, many in the state have this sentiment that local schools aren’t telling the truth – taxes go up each year so they must be lying that they don’t have enough money – their budgets must be increasing.

“So I am asking you, as local representatives, for your support in changing this perception. Either increase state aid going back to schools so we don’t have this issue, or help to explain the loss of state aid and publicize to your constituents that even if public school spending remains the same, your taxes will increase, because the state gave less state aid.”

Zwirgzdas said Monday that the biggest frustration she sees with other area business managers is that the cuts just keep on coming.

“In 2011 the huge decrease that we all hoped we could rebuild on never happened and it’s that frustration of not rebuilding that’s really hard,” she said. “It’s become a question of how long can we continue to live on the same amount.”

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