Menomonee Falls trying to find ways to trim $670,000 deficit in 2014-15

Preliminary school budget weighs layoffs to van and technology purchases

Feb. 6, 2014

Menomonee Falls — Educational programs, school staff and student services reductions and additions for the 2014-2015 school year were outlined and debated at the Menomonee Falls School Board work session on Monday.

The district faces a projected $670,000 budget deficit in the next school year.

Discussions alternated between Menomonee Falls school administration and School Board members about where the likely cuts and additions should occur.

"We are one month earlier this year in the budget plan," Director of Business Services Jeff Gross said. "It's subject to a lot of change yet. We are really early in the process."

Gross presented a 48-page Budget Planning Report that listed factors such as a 5 percent increase in utilities, a 2.5 percent student transportation increase, a 5 percent hike in district liability and property insurance rates, a 7 percent rise in district health and dental insurance costs and a projected 2 percent salary adjustment for the district employees, as being responsible for the increase in expenditures.

Some staff increasing

Gary Kiltz, director of curriculum and learning, detailed a list of staffing recommendation increases.

The plan is to add one elementary school math interventionist who would provide tiered instruction methods using Advantage Math Recovery. An interventionist teaches low-ability students through the use of strategies, activities and games which strengthens core math skills and concepts.

In North Middle School, the district recommended a one-semester overload to the science, technology, engineering and math program, a medical detectives course. Further, the middle school will switch one core curriculum teacher to become a Tier 3 interventionist in math.

Menomonee Falls High School asked to expand its Advancement Via Individual Determination program to include grade 11 and add an additional section to grade nine. AVID's goal is to close the achievement gaps, making college an option for every student.

"AVID serves over 22 students," Superintendent Pat Greco said. "It's for mid-band kids...high ability, low performing...[to] get them ready for post-secondary study and college readiness."

The high school also requested an educational assistant who would support students' learning when not needed for testing.

An accommodation some school staff members made in lieu of the budget shortfall was to form a team which would provide leadership and support activities, coordinate visits, speakers and foster relationships between students and those in higher education and in the workforce, focused in the "hot job markets."

Recommended cuts

The 2014-2015 Budget Planning Report listed reductions in the elementary schools. Four full-time equivalent teachers across different grade levels and/or course electives are projected to be cut.

According to Kiltz, with fewer teachers, the elementary schools are considering creating second-third grade splits and fourth-fifth grade splits. This would allow class sizes to increase from 23 students to 26 in those grades.

"This is not ideal," he said. "Elementary administrators are not in favor of this."

Kiltz cited that teaching science and social studies with that kind of class structure would be more difficult. Those curriculums are taught according to grade level not skill level.

In the high school, reductions can be made by increasing class sizes while maintaining the total number of course sections. Cutting electives such as orchestra were also discussed.

Due to low projected enrollment, the high school will have five fewer course selections.

English interventions will be cut from each period in the high school and may now run only during three to four periods. The upside to this change is that students' schedules can be reduced and readjusted to make better use of the time to run Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions.

The high school math center will be manned by an educational assistant. It was staffed with full-time personnel.

A decrease in students with disabilities justified a single reduction in full-time staff along with cutting two special education assistants, the report stated.

The district planned to eliminate its contract with Children's Community Center, where one district staff member and one K4 class reside. Those students and staff would be brought back to Ben Franklin Elementary, which has one classroom available.

Additional proposals

Jeff Nennig, director of technology and assessments, asked to hire a full-time computer repair technician II for a projected $75,000 salary plus benefits.

The position would most likely be housed at the high school, helping students and teachers as well as assisting in one other school, Nennig said.

Nennig also requested an expansion of five iPads for each second-grade classroom, costing about $40,000.

Nennig said he wants to expand laptop usage at the high school. Additional leases would allow all students to have access to a personal laptop for a budgeted $176,800. Additionally, 150 laptops would be shared by students at North Middle School on transportable carts costing about $56,000.

Pending a section expansion at Valley View Elementary, the computer lab there will be replaced with a mobile computer lab.

Additional district divisions making cuts and additions are Teaching and Learning, Human Resources, Pupil Services and Athletics/Activities.

School Board President Faith VanderHorst questioned $30,000 being allocated for the purchase of vans to ease the transportation budget for athletics and activities.

"I can live with computers," she said. "It's (funding) the vans."

VanderHorst also requested a survey of the community to be conducted in order to offer insight on their priorities regarding the budget. The survey was added as an additional $20,000 line item.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Greco explained the next steps the administration and School Board needs to take in future weeks.

The March 17 School Board meeting will be a closed session to discuss layoff notices. The plan is to "take action" on the proposed layoffs at the March 24 board meeting. Notification to staff will come after March 24, she said.

The next school board meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday.

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