COLBY SCHOOL BOARD TO ADDRESS BUDGET PROBLEMS
Tuesday, March 21st, 2006 -- 11:07 am
Posted by Riley Hebert-News Director
The Colby School District is the latest to reach a critical point of decision on their future, and, like other districts in the area, they may explore consolidation as a possible answer.
In February, voters in the district narrowly defeated a $500,000 revenue-cap exemption referendum. Now, the school board is facing a projected $600,000 budget shortfall for the coming school year.
The School Board last night held the final of three public forums addressing whether the School Board should close the Unity Early Learning Center and Dorchester Elementary School. The proposed closing would save a little over $400,000. The move would send the schools’ 250 students to the Colby Elementary School.
While nearly two hundred people attended the forums, none spoke in favor of closing the schools, according to District Administrator Terry Downen.
“No one has spoken in favor of closing the schools,” Downen reports. “As everybody shows up at these things, they’re very concerned, of course, about losing school buildings and how this will impact the education of the children.”
“On the other hand, there were not a lot of solutions to how does the board solve a $600,000 revenue shortfall,” Downen says.
And that’s “the rub” for area district boards. Residents already feel they’re paying enough – or too much – property taxes, but they don’t want significant cuts made, either.
In Colby’s case, something has to give, Downen says.
The district expects their enrollment will decline by 121 students over the next few years. Under the current revenue cap law, that will be mean a loss of state-aid, and also a “ratcheting-down” of their allowed revenue.
“Next year, the cap will allow us a $201,000 ‘bump’ in expenditures. But our expenses, we know, will (increase) $493,000. So, we’re in the hole with that already,” Downen explains. “There’s a dollar-for-dollar impact for declining enrollment. So, you have to cut every dollar for every kid that’s not there.”
So-called “fixed costs” are “anything but these days”, as energy and transportation costs continue to increase beyond the rate of inflation, Downen says.
Consolidation with neighboring school districts was discussed at each of the public forums and the board may consider an “overture” to Abbotsford, and others, at their meeting tonight (Tuesday).
“Of course, (exploring consolidation) is a long process; on the other hand, it’s one that needs to be embarked upon,” Downen says. “On the Board’s agenda, there will be an overture that will be considered to all the districts that bound the Colby School District – which is about 9 or 10 – to take a look at whether there’s interest.”
While many area schools are already operating under a referendum-authorized revenue-cap exemption, others are considering them. In fact, Greenwood and Granton have cap-exemptions in place; Loyal and Neillsville’s boards have discussed going to referendum this year.
Downen says there is a petition circulating in the district encouraging the board to try another referendum before closing any schools.
The board could take some action at a meeting tonight (Tuesday).
Audio: Audio - 3:07
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