Brodhead schools face decision
BRODHEAD — Faced with a projected $800,000 deficit next year, the Brodhead School Board will vote Thursday night whether to seek an April referendum.
If the board votes to seek a spring referendum, it also must set the term of the borrowing and dollar amount Thursday to meet a Jan. 22 ballot deadline, Superintendent Chuck Deery said.
The district needs more money to maintain programs and activities and avoid massive cuts, Deery said. Brodhead schools lost more than $1 million in state aid over the last two years.
"That's a huge chunk in a $10.5 million budget," Deery said.
The referendum decision follows a community meeting last month, when the board presented three options to deal with the upcoming deficit, which grows to an estimated $1 million in 2014-2015 and $1.3 million in 2015-2016.
The three options are:
-- Cut expenses.
-- Maintain programs, but pay for them out of the fund balance.
-- Seek a referendum.
More than 60 people attended the December meeting, which included discussion but "obviously no easy answers," Deery said.
The audience was "pretty clearly" not in favor of deficit spending because it's not a long-term solution, he said.
Deery thinks the solution is a combination of all three options. He has recommended a three-year referendum along with reductions in spending and use of the fund balance.
The board was hoping to get input from residents last month on what they think the district should cut, Deery said. The only sizeable idea suggested was salary and benefits, again, he said.
"We're at a point where we need to be careful of doing more if we want to remain competitive and keep staff," he said.
All the "easy things—if there is such a thing—were done long ago," he said.
If a referendum doesn't pass, cuts would be made to programs and people, such as reducing or eliminating all elective programs, he said. That's a danger because students could leave through open enrollment to find the programs at other districts.
Sports and extracurricular activities haven't been discussed, other than the notion that if cuts are made to all other programs, sports should be part of the discussion, Deery said.
"Obviously the board is not real interested in doing that because of what happened three years ago," he said.
The board said all sports and extracurriculars likely would be cut if a February 2010 referendum failed. When it failed, community members quickly responded with more ideas, but a smaller April 2010 referendum also failed. The district has since made more cuts, but not to sports.
A significant chunk of debt will be paid off this year. The district borrowed $2.3 million in 2004 for elementary school renovations and the track, football field and parking lot.
With the debt being paid off, a $510,000 payment comes off the tax rolls. Without a new referendum, the tax rate would drop $1.80 per thousand dollars of valuation.
Brodhead already has the lowest tax rate in the Rock Valley Conference and geographic area at $8.81 per thousand dollars of valuation, Deery said. If a new referendum were approved, the goal would be to keep the tax rate about the same level—not more than a few cents increase, he said.
Residents at the December meeting said they weren't excited to hear taxes could go down next year but jump up the following year, he said.
If the board decides to go to referendum but not in April, Deery said he isn't sure when it would be.
There is no general election in November. The district could hold a special election at a cost of $12,000 to $15,000 or wait until February or April 2014.
"They could probably deficit spend and get by for a year," he said, but it would use a big chunk of the approximately $1.9 million fund balance.
Enrollment continues to decline, thought it didn't dip this year as much as the expected 20-student decrease, he said. The district was down six to eight students with a total enrollment of about 1,150. Enrollment is expected to trend down, but it is starting to level off after the last of larger high school classes leave and are replaced with smaller kindergarten classes.
Board seeking applications for superintendent
The Brodhead School Board is accepting applications for the superintendent position through Friday, Feb. 15.
Board members decided they were capable to search for and hire the district's top administrator to replace Superintendent Chuck Deery, who announced in November he will retire at the end of the school year.
Deery was hired as superintendent 12 years ago.
Board members are working on interview questions and setting up committees to do the interviewing, Deery said. The interview process, which is expected to last a month to a month-and-a-half, will following the Feb. 15 deadline, he said.
The board's hope is to have someone selected by early- to mid-April, he said.
Deery is doing what he can to assist without being involved in the actual hiring, such as helping with interview questions, he said. The administrative team is helping coordinate the rest, he said.