From: Karl Sonneman
WAPS Budget Reduction Committee member
It became clear to me that this task force is not about budgets. There is no budget to discuss. And I do not believe that there is a functioning budget process in the district. I was looking at past year actuals and budgeted numbers, and it is difficult to find a projection of operations on a going forward basis. After this exercise last year, the 2017-2018 budget adopted in June 2017 still came back with a deficit. What seems to be true is that the district administration is unwilling to make hard decisions about expenses in the non-essential areas of operation. This is consistent with what the article in Sunday’s Winona Post said about the district’s budgets.
As far as budgeting goes, the “cutting” process is a sham. We are given a target number that appears to float on thin air. It is not based on either last year actuals, the current operational budget or a 2018-2019 budget. It may be based solely on the decline in fund balance. The fund balance should be a topic of serious discussion but it appears that we are to be cut off from addressing this.
We have not discussed the elephant in the fund balance room – first, the $.5 million annual hit from the health and safety transfer and, second, the failure over the past several years to get administrative and support costs under control. As the number of students has fallen, the number of administrators has grown. This, and not the number of school buildings, which has decreased over the past 30 years, is the problem. The health and safety transfer has led to a $1 million decline in the 2017-18 fund balance and presumably the intention is to cause another $.5 million reduction from the 2018-19 budget. While it is not the only cause of a decline in fund balance, it is a material factor in claiming a crisis exists. We need to protect elementary education from the mistakes of district managers and find ways to recover funds in other places.
The task force worksheets are focused on cutting instructional operations, which coincidentally make up only 60 percent of the district unreserved I&E costs and approximately 50 percent of the district’s total costs. The discussion is limited to small items and one big target – elementary schools. Somehow, elementary education, with a now stable population (based on birthrates), is to be cut two to three times more than any possible cuts to WMS/WSHS or to administration and services. This reduces the argument about elementary education to a cost argument and completely ignores student wellbeing and progress, education theory, or community impacts. Planning for elementary education is much more complicated than just closing a school building and alleging there will be savings.
The priority question is how do young children learn and what environment is best to encourage such learning.
Education is the fundamental reason that the district exists. Savings or budget reductions should first come from non-essentials to classroom education. A real budgeting process would do this. We do not have a real budgeting process here. I can and will vote on list of reductions by proposing an alternative selection of costs to cut, but I do not believe that this is the right way to do it or the right task to ask us to pursue.