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Spotlight on Schools: Budget

Friday, March 10, 2017 — Hello Black River Falls Community, this is Dr. Shelly Severson with the School District of Black River Falls here to share this week’s installment of our Spotlight on Schools!  This week I’d like to highlight the current budget situation of the District.

I know I am more sensitive to it than the average person, but it seems every time there is any type of political debate happening, education gets thrown into the ring.  Why do I think this is?  Because educations is funded through tax dollars, nobody likes paying taxes, and a quality education does not come cheap.  I wish the fate of our students didn’t rest in the political world.  But, we play the hands we’re dealt and we keep coming back to our community to help us prioritize what our community thinks is most important.

As we sit down to begin preparing the 2017-2018 budget, we find ourselves wrestling with a deficit near $600,000.  If this were the first year we needed to make reductions, this would be a challenge, but doable.  Unfortunately, every year for the last ten years I remember, we have been faced with a deficit to overcome.  Where do we even start to look for that type of reduction?  We start by using the team of administrators generating a list of all potential areas for reduction and then go through the painstaking conversations about how much can come from where with the least amount of impact to our students.  I will share that for the first time in a  long time we are recommending taking a large portion of this from our Capital Maintenance budget.  Due to the support of our community, we have recently invested a great deal in our facilities.  We believe our most expensive capital maintenance projects were taken care of through the referendum facility projects, however, like home ownership, you can’t reduce the maintenance budget forever, or you find yourselves in need of more costly repairs than the annual budget could ever allow for.

We are experiencing declining enrollment.  There are simply fewer school aged children living in Black River Falls than the past.  All of our aid is tied to the number of students attending our schools.  It seems logical that if we have fewer students our expenses should also go down.  While that may be true in some areas, like consumable supplies in the classroom, that is a tiny portion of our overall budget.  A declining enrollment of even 20 students is significant to our bottom line.  However, when you consider that we have fourteen grade levels spread across the District, with one or two students less per grade level, you are still not able to easily reduce staff.  Additionally, regardless of the 20 fewer students we have to heat the buildings, run the buses, clean the buildings, provide meals, etc.  

Why do our expenses increase each year?  As with your personal budget, there is always fluctuation in gas, utilities, food prices, maintenance, vehicle expenses, etc.  We also experience these.  The bulk of our budget is spent on staffing.  It is extremely common, regardless of the type of work you do, to expect some type of an increase from year to year.  Additionally, the cost of healthcare continues to rise each year.  We are working hard at educating our staff as to how to be good consumers of their health so that we can keep these cost increases to a minimum.  While not all of our employees are eligible for health care, it is still a significant expense.  With no new dollars coming into the District and these annual expenses increases, we continue to face the deficit.  

The Board of Education is currently wrestling with the budget reduction recommendations from the Administrative team.  They will take action on Monday, March 20th at 6:00 pm in the Board Room of the District Office.  If you have thoughts or opinions on this topic, or would like to hear the discussion, please join us!

I have another community announcement:  If you are interested in a commemorative brick from the Third Street School, we have them!  During the demolition process I was contacted by SEVERAL community members asking if they could have a commemorative brick as a keepsake of their time at the school.  At the time, the demolition site was not safe for visitors.  We are now ready to share them!  If you are interested in taking a brick, we ask that you please come into the District Office, stop by and let either Theresa or Marti, the receptionists, know that you are here for a brick.  You are then welcome to go and take one.  I have had people asking if they could take a “load” of them to construct a fire pit, patio, etc.  Our priority is in allowing as many people as possible to have a piece of history, as opposed to one or two people having a monument.  We appreciate your cooperation in this!  You can stop by the District Office between 7:30 am and 4:30 pm. We will do this through Friday, April 7. At that time, any remaining bricks can go to anyone that would like more.

You may have also seen the unique brick structure in front of the District Office.  This structure was built with recycled brick from the Third Street School building.  This is the monument that was donated by Miron Construction and Bray Architect, as their gift to the community, for allowing them to work with us on our facility projects.  Perhaps you remember the bell from the old Union High School bell tower?  For as long as I can remember, the bell has been pulled in the annual Homecoming Parade.  That bell is going to be mounted inside this structure as a permanent reminder of the importance of this site to the history of education in our community.  The bell will be placed later this spring.

Before I sign off for this week, I want to remind you that if you are looking for something to do this weekend, the high school music department will be performing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Friday and Saturday nights at 7:00 pm, and Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm.  Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students.  We hope you can take a some time on a spring weekend to enjoy a little live theater!

In keeping with our routine this year, I’d like to share another quote from American Education Week.  We asked staff “Why the School District of Black River Falls was the right fit for them?” High School Special Education teacher Connie Helstad had the following to say:  “Choosing to work for the BRF school district was an easy choice this year because everyone already felt like family to me!”  Connie was already very familiar with the District prior to getting hired.  She had been a long time substitute, parent volunteer, PTO coordinator, Booster Club coordinator… Whew! We are thrilled to have her working with us in this capacity.  She’s doing great things for our kids!

The Tiger Tribune is coming out in your next edition of the Shopper.  Be sure to check for it!  

As always, if you have any questions about this, or anything else within the District, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thank you so much for your support of the School District of Black River Falls! Go Tigers!