Shorewood School District's early budget draws concerns
Shorewood district tries to keep everything balanced
Shorewood - Despite some concern from teachers and community members that the process was being rushed, the Shorewood School District now has a preliminary budget in place for the 2013-14 school year, several months earlier than in previous years.
The School Board was asked to consider approving a preliminary budget earlier this year in part to allow the district to begin hiring new teachers sooner, Superintendent Martin Lexmond explained during a special meeting Tuesday. The preliminary budget has traditionally been approved in late June.
"The purpose of bringing the budget forward in March is really to allow us to get into the hiring cycle when the best talent is available, especially for teachers," Lexmond said.
The atmosphere in the Shorewood High School Library was tense during the discussion, as board members, teachers and parents grappled with the priorities outlined in the proposed budget.
To help bridge its anticipated $520,000 revenue shortfall, due to a zero increase in per pupil funding proposed at the state level, the district is proposing 14 expense reductions in the budget, totaling nearly $760,000.
In addition to savings achieved through staff retirements and turnover, examples of reductions include reorganizing secretarial support staff, reorganizing custodial services and changing employee health plan contributions.
But the budget also included new costs.
Of particular concern was the implementation and benefit to students of proposed response to intervention, or RTI, strategies, as well as the impact of an increased deductible and health reimbursement accounts for employee health insurance.
Struggling student help
Beginning Dec. 1, a state mandate requires that the district have a scientifically validated, three-tier RTI model in place to support struggling students, in part to help address the issue of over-identification of special education students, explained Anthony Strancke, principal at Shorewood Intermediate School.
To help fulfill this mandate, the budget proposes adding a full-time interventionist at a cost of about $66,000, as well as other provisions, such as dedicating other staff to part-time intervention supports and purchasing intervention software programs for reading and math.
Under the new RTI model, second-tier support would include small-group assistance for identified students for 30 minutes twice per week, with five students to one teacher, Strancke said, and third-tier support would pair one or two students with one teacher for 30 minutes up to five times per week.
The district has not yet determined where the interventionist would be placed, Lexmond said.
"As a result of being able to intervene, the hope is that we will be able to see significant progress," Strancke said. "We know that it works. It's just being able to free up the staff or have the allocation of funds to increase the time with the teacher to show some significant growth and improvement."
Strancke said classroom teachers also stand to benefit from the arrangement.
High school teacher Debra Schwinn, however, said that while she is not opposed to supporting struggling students, the intervention measures can also have a negative impact on students in regular classrooms.
"The cost of having an intervener in an eight-student classroom … is that in regular classrooms we're shifting to higher numbers," Schwinn said. "That's a huge impact on a regular classroom teacher."
Board member David Cobb, expressing concerns about asking teachers to do more with less, questioned whether the district would choose such an approach if it was not required by the state.
Lexmond said many intervention efforts already are in place in the district, but the state mandate simply puts them in a more predictable system. The governor's proposed budget also includes provisions to award dollars to districts that are successful on their school report cards or show significant improvements, Lexmond added.
"I think Shorewood is positioned well to capture some of the revenue that comes with exceeding or significantly exceeding expectations," he said.
Including the intervention recommendations, the district's preliminary budget outlines a total of 13 expense additions, at a total cost of about $287,000. Other additions include filling a full-time English Language Learner teaching position at Lake Bluff Elementary and moving all Atwater kindergarten classes and 4-year-old kindergarten classes at Lake Bluff back to the district's Early Education Centers.
Health benefit funds
The budget recommendation also modifies employee health benefits and how medical services are paid. By increasing employees' health insurance deductibles and creating a Health Reimbursement Account contribution for employees, the district would save an estimated $65,000.
The single deductible would increase from $250 to $1,000 and family deductible from $500 to $2,000, which would save $1,500 in the premium cost per participant. To help offset the increase, the district would contribute $1,000 annually into an HRA account for each family plan participant, and $500 for each single plan participant.
In addition to saving the district money, Lexmond said the HRA is also intended to benefit employees as the funds accumulate over time, and to encourage long-term planning in their personal health expenses.
Resident Kathy Schill pointed out that the arrangement could be detrimental to employees, however, should the district lower its HRA contribution in the future.
"The way I heard it last week was that it's not a dramatic change because of the contribution," Schill said. "It is potentially a dramatic change, and that was not discussed."
Sachin Pandya, a teacher at Lake Bluff Elementary, suggested that the board consider holding off on making deductible and HRA changes to give teachers time to digest the details and understand the implications on other employee benefits, including those that deal with post-employment.
The deductible and HRA plan changes would not be effective until after the current plan year, which ends June 30.
Should the district receive additional revenue from the state, one of its top priorities would be to eliminate the health insurance deductible increase for employees, while still implementing the HRA component, Lexmond said.
Other recommendations, such as world language expansion or alternative high school programming, also have been targeted for implementation if the revenue limit increases.
Lexmond characterized the district's approach to the budget as a thoughtful, collaborative process, with a focus on student learning.
"Budgets are about priorities and often trade-offs when we don't have the resources that we want," Lexmond said. "I think it's my responsibility first to look at kids."
Although they didn't necessarily agree with everything in the preliminary budget, teachers said they appreciated the board's willingness to hear and weigh their concerns.
Board President Rob Reinhoffer stressed that the budget is preliminary and the district still has plenty of time to work out the details over the summer.
Although the district's approximately $22.4 million preliminary budget is based on the assumption that per pupil funding and resident enrollment will remain constant, those factors could change, resulting in budgetary adjustments prior to the district's annual meeting in September, and board approval of the final budget in October.
Cobb abstained from the vote to adopt the preliminary budget.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT:Shorewood School District's 2013-14 preliminary budget
WHERE: Budget can be viewed online by accessing the agenda packet for the March 19 School Board meeting on the district's website,shorewood.k12.wi.us.
HOW: Select "Board of Education" from the "Our District" menu at the top of the page. Then click "Agendas & Minutes" in the left sidebar, select the March 19 Special School Board meeting from the list and open the agenda packet, which includes a link to the budget.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Shorewood Schools Business Manager moves on
- Police Report: May 13
- Elmbrook recommends Stormonth's Westfahl as new Brookfield Elementary principal
- News & Notes: May 8
- Stein's Gardens and Gifts again takes root in Shorewood
- NSFD board trying to take funding formula discussion behind closed doors
- Shorewood repairing meter to prevent water main breaks
- Ford resigns from Shorewood Village Board
- Police Report: May 6