November referendum suggested by board
The Edgar Board of Education on Monday tentatively agreed to hold an operational referendum as part of the Nov. 3 general election, while at the same time it reviewed a $87,600 list of budget cuts it could make should the referendum fail for a second time. Board members did not vote to schedule a referendum but, as part of general discussion about the next steps following a Feb. 18 defeat of a $650,000 recurring operational referendum, board members unanimously supported bringing back the referendum later this fall.
Board members directed district administrator Dr. Cari Guden to get advice from local citizens about putting together a referendum committee that would campaign for the referendum.
The board, however, was not as supportive of the district hiring School Perceptions, Slinger, to survey the Edgar public and come up with a referendum campaign strategy. Cost for the firm’s services run between $8,000 and $10,000.
“That does not look like it’s worth $10,000,” said school board president Bill Dittman.
Board members seemed to favor school staff or campaign workers making school finance presentations at local community organizations, including the Edgar Lions Club and Edgar Fire Department.
It was less clear, board members said, whether tours of Edgar Public Schools would be effective in communicating how declining enrollment has hurt the school’s budget. Board member Tess Kaiser thought tours would be helpful, but board member Gary Lewis said people would suspect the school wanted to pass a building referendum.
Board members discussed reasons for the failed referendum but came to no conclusion. The referendum passed in both the villages of Edgar and Fenwood, tied in the town of Cleveland and failed in the balance of the district townships. Voter turnout was between 35 and 49 percent. The referendum failed by a 530 to 453 margin.
In discussion, school officials said there were citizens who did not know about the school referendum, despite flyers sent to citizens, newspaper and social media articles and signs put up around Edgar. The officials also speculated that a poor agricultural economy might have contributed to the failed referendum.
Administrator Guden presented a $87,600 list of possible cuts and revenue increases for next year’s school budget that would mostly handle a projected $100,000 deficit should the district defeat a referendum for a second time.
The proposed budget changes include the following:
_ Delaying the purchase of athletic uniforms, reducing the purchase of sports supplies and eliminating coaching clinics and workshops to save $25,000.
_ Elimination of student accident insurance, saving $13,000.
_ Increasing student fees by $10 to net $4,000 in new revenue.
_ Charging families for field trip busing to save $12,000.
_ Elimination of out-of-school professional development training, saving $15,000.
_ Ending teacher overloads, saving $6,700.
_ Teaching college English with a current staff member, not a UW professor, saving $5,200.
_ Reducing $4,500 in staff supplies.
Other possible ideas Guden suggested, but that were less developed included:
_ Charging users of the Edgar Wellness Center a $120 annual fee. Guden said the fee would pay for cleaning the center with school staff. Volunteers have not cleaned the facility as originally proposed, she said.
_ Reducing the number of bus routes. Board member Lewis said he opposed this idea, given that the school district’s bus vendor, Fischer Transportation, Fenwood, would continue to charge the district the same price for busing even if the board were to reduce routes.
_ Ending behind-the-wheel driver’s education, saving $5,000.
_ Charging students $2 to attend athletic events, raising an estimated $2,400.
_ Ending a policy where the district pays employees cash in lieu of taking health insurance. The district currently pays 15 employees a total cash payment of $80,160. The downside to this plan is that if these 15 employees lost their cash payments and opted for health insurance the district premiums would increase by $212,840.
Board members acknowledged that they could make a variety of budget cuts but that the district’s financial position would continue to worsen.
Baird and Co., Milwaukee, has forecast the district deficit to be $261,252 in 2021-22, $533,351 in 2022-23,$862,684 in 2023-24 and $1,166,823 in 2024-25.
Board members acknowledged they would not be able to run Edgar Public schools and meet state mandates even a year or two into this financial crunch.
Board member Lewis said the district had little choice but to change the minds of voters and get a referendum to pass.
“These cuts are only a patch,” he said. “We have to get that referendum passed. How do we get them [those who voted against the referendum] to swing?”