Brodhead residents seek details on referendum

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March 16, 2010
— The size of the district's administrative team and teachers' health insurance became key targets for cuts as taxpayers voiced opinions and questions Monday about Brodhead's planned school referendum April 6.

Administrators and teachers have voluntarily agreed to a pay freeze next year in light of the district's financial situation.

School district resident Tom Simpson questioned board members whether they would ask teachers to pay part of their health insurance when negotiations begin on the next contract. The district now pays 100 percent of teachers' health insurance premiums.

"It's time they realize what the rest of us down here are paying for health insurance premiums, and they need to pay a part of it themselves," Simpson said.

Board members said health insurance always is on the negotiation table, and the board has been able to reduce insurance costs by switching teachers off the WEA Trust plan to a Mercy/Dean choice plan, board member Teresa Earleywine said.

"It's something the board will continue to discuss and hopefully, in time, maybe there can be a change," she said.

Speakers at Monday's public hearing were less divisive and brought fewer attacks directed toward the board compared to a public hearing two days after the failed Feb. 16 referendum. The board had taken criticism for not providing enough information in advance of the February referendum.

Monday, the board provided packets of data and comparisons and pointed to additional information on the district's Web site. The information pleased at least one speaker, who said many of her questions were answered.

Superintendent Chuck Deery and the board explained the details of the April 6 referendum to at least 100 residents before responding to questions from the audience.

Voters will decide on a three-year, $1.76 million referendum to maintain programs and staff. The failed referendum sought $3.59 million over four years.

Some speakers questioned the need for a principal at each of the three district's schools and the number of other administrators in the district office.

Regardless of next month's referendum outcome, the board pointed to its approval of cutting one administrative position when the current contract expires in 2011. Other administrative cuts may come in following years, they said.

If the referendum fails, the board will cut two full-time teachers, one guidance counselor, one part-time teacher and the high school adventures class. It also would eliminate the agriculture and family and consumer education classes at the middle school and cut those classes in half at the high school.

Also brought up repeatedly Monday night was $1.8 million the district owes the Wisconsin Retirement System. The issue came to light recently when the Janesville School Board started discussion on how to pay its debt.

The state assigned all school districts a debt in 1986. Since then, Brodhead has been paying off the debt with a 7.8 percent interest rate.

Speakers on Monday questioned why the board hasn't refinanced at a lower interest rate.

Deery said the board looked at the issue eight years ago and again three to four years ago, but decided not to make any changes.

Board President Peggy Olsen said the board could refinance the debt. Given favorable rates now, it's something the board can look at, she said.

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