Racine Taxpayers Association Opposes Unified Referendums
The Racine Taxpayers Association met with Racine Unified School District Chief Financial Officer Dave Hazen and two staff members last week and 'following is a synopsis of the meeting:
RUSD stated that 3700 students, 17 percent-plus of enrollment, are special education and a discussion of the various categories ensued. At no time did we suggest reducing or eliminating any necessary Special Education programs. We pointed out the district has mislead us by using special education as a significant reason for increased costs. In the past 4 years, RUSD's net cost increase for special education was $570,395. The net increase for all other spending was $37 million. Special Education received more state and federal aid making the increase to the district negligible.
The desired student/teacher ratio of North Star Vision's smaller class size requires a total of 882 teachers in the classroom during the school day. RUSD.has 1662 teachers and 435 teaching assistants for a total of2,097 educators. Additionally there are 300 administrators and clerical employees, as well as 3800 community volunteers. Without a detailed justification of the current perceived excess, requesting more staff seems unreasonable.
We pointed out that student enrollment peaked in 2007 and RUSD forecast shows no increase through 2016. Also, the forecast does not take into account the potential loss of students due to the growth of eSchool and new "charter" or "choice" schools.
We suggested money could be saved by reducing high school from an 8-period to 7-period day. Mr. Hazen indicated the district is discussing "block scheduling" as a better alternative for both cost and student performance. We strongly agree with that idea, however, it was promised 5 years ago and, until this meeting, it has never been mentioned.
RUSD, like most of the other 425 school districts in Wisconsin offer the "AP" Program for advanced learning. RUSD is the only district offering "IB" as a secondadvanced learning program. We questioned the need and expense of supporting both programs instead of just one since Racine students earn 50% fewer college credits than the state average.
We suggested the elimination of 4-year old Kindergarten. It is 3 hours per day, four days per week and requires busing,}eachers, space and contracting with six daycare centers. We have been waiting over a year for RUSD to report on the promised cost savings and performance improvements of this program.
We discussed the 53 employees assigned to the Mack Center and Racine County Detention Center and the possible use of e-school at these facilities. We also discussed 5th year seniors, part time seniors, those attending Gateway & Parkside at RUSD expense and the requirement to allow students to stay in school until age 21.
Many answers were summed up with; the added cost isn't that much, it's a government mandate or the programs and employees are needed to meet the needs of the students. We realized that not much has changed and that RUSD will always first ask for more money before getting serious about fiscal discipline.
Health insurance is $50 million this year and it's been a known problem for many years. The district ignored it until forced to do something. Mr. Hazen indicated some costs were state mandates and we should contact our legislators. He made no mention of RUSD proposing any legislative changes to improve costs and efficiencies.
In conclusion, it is our opinion that Referendum Question #2 requesting $35 million for additional staff and question #3 requesting $10 million to increase the fund balance have no justification.
Question #1 requesting $83.5 million for building and renovating schools is the result of past and current school boards and administrations refusal to prioritize funds for maintenance. This will be a 20-year bond with annual payments of about $7 million per year. The district should find this money within current budgets and come back to the taxpayer when promised results are being achieved.
Dennis Kisley George Meyers Richard Reich Lou Handziak Racine Taxpayers Association, March 23, 2011