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Brodhead planning second referendum

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GINA R. HEINE
February 18, 2010
— Two days after voters shot down a $3.59 million referendum, the Brodhead School Board tonight will start writing a new referendum question for the April 6 ballot.

“We’ll keep going,” board President Peggy Olsen said. “I see no other way out.”


The alternative: Spend the district’s fund balance and go bankrupt, she said.


Tuesday’s referendum asked taxpayers to exceed the state revenue cap by $3.59 million over the next four years to maintain staff and programs and replace the high school roof. Voters rejected it 1,027-834. Olsen and Superintendent Chuck Deery starting making plans Wednesday morning to get another referendum on the April ballot. Special board meetings will be held tonight and Friday night to meet the midnight Friday deadline to get it on the ballot.


The district faces a $400,000 deficit this fall, along with replacing a 15-year-old roof at a cost of $500,000.


Second referendum

Deery anticipates the new referendum will ask for less money.


The board will look at why the vote failed and what to tweak, Olsen said. That could include looking at a two-year referendum, refinancing district debt, freezing support and administrative staff salaries in fall and increasing sports fees.


Teachers are locked into a contract through 2011, but support staff and administrative wages have not been set yet.


The problem with increasing sports fees is it reduces state aid, Olsen said.


“In a property-poor district (such as Brodhead) … every dollar that we take in in revenue from kids, we get 25 cents less in state aid,” she said. “We want to be careful in how far do we increase this and lose our state aid, (which) supports all students in all classrooms.”


Tuesday’s impacts

Students are making plans to leave the district. By Tuesday night, 32 students had applied under the state’s open enrollment program to leave. By noon Wednesday, the number hit 83, with many more expected to file before Friday’s deadline.


Students who file paperwork to leave can change their mind in the coming months and return to Brodhead.


But each student that leaves equals a loss of $6,800 in state aid to the district. That’s a loss of another $564,400 so far for the 83 student who have filed.


Officials said they haven’t begun to think about how to make up a deficit of more than $1 million.


Teachers are asking administrators for letters of recommendation. Deery fears the district could lose some of its best teachers who leave to coach sports elsewhere or to have opportunities for their own children.


Response to reaction

Deery and Olsen responded to comments Tuesday, including accusations the district is using “scare tactics” or “crying wolf” by saying sports would be cut.


“That’s a false assumption when people make that statement ,” Olsen said.


“The budget really is that dire,” Deery said.


People may have thought sports wouldn’t be cut and voted no, but extracurriculars and sports “will have to be cut” this fall or next year, he said.


The board put together a list of cuts to make if the referendum failed. The list includes sports and anything outside of the classroom, including show choir, drama, student council and forensics.


“We just have not been able to convince a portion of the community that that is the case,” Deery said.


The district reaches a level where it can’t cut any more teachers, such as at the elementary level.


Among the cuts on the list are three elementary positions, pushing all grades to three sections with class sizes of 25 to 28 students. Cutting beyond that to two sections wouldn’t work, Deery said.


“We’re kind of running out of options. That’s why sports is on the table,” he said.


Other taxpayers called for a new school board.


This year—and for the past three years—incumbents have sought reelection without facing any challengers. One year, not enough names filled the ballot, so someone eventually ran as a write-in candidate, Deery said.


Incumbents Carol Kloepping and Olsen are unopposed in the April 6 election.


Some taxpayers say Brodhead’s taxes are too high and shouldn’t increase.


The school district has the lowest tax rate—$8.45 per $1,000 of assessed home value—in Green County and the Rock Valley Conference, Olsen said. The school district’s tax rate has not increased in nine years, she said.


People are misinformed as to where their taxes go and where the increases are coming from, she said, pointing to new city facilities that have pushed up the total tax bill.


Olsen said she thinks one of the biggest reasons the referendum failed Tuesday was that it was the first chance in a long time taxpayers had to go to the polls and say, “No,” to a tax increase.


“It’s a testament that the schools haven’t been there at the polls,” she said.


“Taxes are going up and up and up, and not because (of the district).”


Residents offer their reaction to referendum

-- Gidget Anderson, who has 16- and 8-year-old athletes in the school district.


Anderson doesn’t think the district will actually cut extracurricular activities from the budget. Sports booster clubs and other supporters will step up to fill the gap.


“Sports are a big thing for parents here in Brodhead. I don’t think we’ll let sports leave the school. The district will come up with another option.”


-- Peggy Chesney of Brodhead thinks taxes already are too high in the Brodhead School District. The schools need to do a better job of controlling spending, she said.


“Every year, they (taxes) go up so high. You can’t even afford to fix your house. I think it’s time the school board be replaced or diminished.”


-- “Ridiculous,” was the first thing Jay Good blurted out when asked about the failed referendum.


“Many of these programs they’ve listed as going to be cut are just as important as ‘regular’ classes,” Good said. “Cutting programs like music, art? I think that’s just ridiculous.


“No one’s willing to pay for anything anymore.”


-- Kandi Ball of Brodhead thinks voters will get another chance to vote on the issue.


“It is a bad decision to cut extracurricular actives. But I don’t think it’s a done deal. I think the district is going to come back with a less expensive option.


“And if you want your kid to be in sports, it might be you’re going to have to pay more. We’re all making cuts.”


-- Lisa Regenold of Brodhead thinks the district’s proposal to cut sports is going too far.


“I think this is a situation of throwing the baby definitely out with the bathwater. We have strong sports booster clubs in Brodhead, and they’re just going to have to take on more responsibilities.


“We’re going to see some students leave. And that’s too bad because even in such a small district, we’ve had a fair number of students get sports scholarships. For a small community, that’s pretty incredible.


“Hopefully, we can pull through.”


-- Kerry Buehl Brodhead has two daughters in the Brodhead School District, including a seventh-grader who is in band.


“I hope there are no other cuts. My girls both like music. I don’t know what they’re going to have kids doing when they’re not doing that stuff.”


-- Sue Trotter of Juda lives outside the Brodhead School District but has a vested interest in the referendum results because the Brodhead and Juda districts field cooperative teams in all sports except boys and girls basketball and girls volleyball.


“I think the district is crying wolf. The fact is they need to make some tough budget cuts. They need to do like the rest of us. You do what you’ve got to do. My kids go to Juda, but we’ll be affected. Whatever happens, it will be interesting.”


-- Joyce Nipple of Brodhead is worried about the lasting effect the failed referendum will have on the community as a whole.


“I’m sad it didn’t pass. I think sports are awfully important to every child and every parent. But in a lot of the schools, you have to pay more for sports.


“I’d hate to see everybody leave Brodhead because I love it.”



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