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Public opinions yield new plans for referendum

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GINA R. HEINE
February 19, 2010
— Brodhead teachers are willing to reopen their contracts for negotiations, and administrators are willing to have a pay freeze to help balance the budget and get a second referendum approved.

Hundreds of parents, students and residents turned out for a special board meeting Thursday night at the high school to exchange ideas on how to make up a $400,000 deficit in next year’s budget.


The board will use the ideas tonight as they write a resolution to put a second referendum on the April 6 ballot. Tuesday’s referendum failed, and the board is working to meet a deadline of midnight tonight to finish paperwork to get another referendum question on the April ballot.


Residents on Tuesday by a vote of 1,027-834 turned down a $3.59 million, four-year referendum to maintain staff and programming and replace the high school’s 15-year-old roof.


After listening to three hours of public input Thursday night, the board formed three options to be analyzed financially today.


-- Option A would be a three-year referendum, financing the roof replacement over 10 years and freezing teacher, administrative and support staff salary.


-- Option B would be a four-year referendum with all of the above.


-- Option C would include ideas above and refinance the district’s debt over 10 years.


Kathy Matteson, an elementary school teacher and member of the negotiating committee for the teacher’s union, said an informal survey of the union’s members found they are willing to reopen negotiations on the 2009-11 contract for the purpose of discussing a salary freeze.


Her announcement brought a round of applause from the room.


Such a move could mean $850 less per teacher, translating into $70,000 to $80,000 in savings, officials said.


While the announcement pleased many speakers, several others brought up having staff members pay for part of their health insurance premiums as well.


Superintendent Chuck Deery said administrators “have agreed a wage freeze is a foregone conclusion” for them.


“We anticipate that is going to happen,” he said.


His statements appeared as news to many in attendance who already were calling for freezes or cuts in administrative pay.


The freeze amounts to about $15,000 in savings, he said.


Speakers repeatedly said the way the board presented information before the failed referendum came off in a negative way. Others said using sports as an ultimatum angered voters.


Music from the band playing at the basketball game down the hall provided a reminder to why many were arguing to save extracurricular activities.


As of Thursday afternoon, 97 students had applied through open enrollment to leave Brodhead for other school districts. If all of them follow through, it would be a loss of about $660,000 in state aid to Brodhead.


Board members stressed that passing a referendum wouldn’t mean cuts would stop.


“This isn’t a blank check, we’re not going to stop looking for cuts,” board member Mike Krupke said.


Board President Peggy Olsen started the meeting by asking only for ideas. While trying to keep speakers on topic, many launched into passionate speeches about why voters need to say, “Yes,” to a referendum or how difficult it is to face a tax increase.


The board needs to do a better job at communicating correct information to the public, several speakers said. Others asked for more detailed numbers and information they felt should have been public weeks ago.


“We’re just trying to do the job that you elected us to do,” Olsen said.


Among the ideas speakers suggested were:


Eliminating middle school sports from the budget, removing high school sports from the referendum and finding a way to save them, having volunteer coaches, creating a community foundation, contacting legislators, redefining job descriptions, cutting two principals, reducing busing and having seniors do maintenance work as part of their required community service projects.


A few people suggested holding the same referendum again. One speaker suggested consolidating with other area districts.


Olsen pointed out the board will have to issue layoff notices to six staff members to meet the April 1 deadline. If the April 6 referendum is approved, the teachers could be recalled.



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