Nicolet Takes First Steps Toward Referendum
Budget shortfalls leading to multiple meetings next week for administration and the School Board.
After six years of budget cuts and declining enrollment, the Nicolet School District is taking the first step toward a possible referendum to address looming budget shortfalls.
Administrators will meet multiple times next week to determine if they should ask the School Board to approve a referendum to maintain current programs and services for the next four years.
On Monday, the Budget and Finance Committee will hold a special meeting to review any possible cuts in the current budget. Then a special board meeting will be held Jan. 19 to further discuss district's budget crunch and the possibility of putting a referendum on the April ballot.
During that meeting, board members and administrators could determine a possible referendum amount, and duration of that referendum. If the board goes that route, the district would ask voters for authority to exceed the state-imposed revenue caps, although no amount has yet been determined.
Public weighs in
Officials say the district needs about $2 million more per year over the next four years to continue the current level of programs and operations at the high school.
The district floated that figure in a survey sent to residents
“Based on the community survey results, if there is a referendum, it is highly unlikely to be for $2 million for four years,” said Jeff Dellutri, director of business services.
The survey said a referendum to give the district an additional $2 million a year over four years would result in a property tax increase of $121 a year on a home worth $250,000.
Cuts in enrollment and spending
The possibility of a referendum comes after the district has made about $3.4 million in personnel reduction since 2004. Nicolet has reduced teaching positions by 33 percent, administrator positions by 29 percent and support staff by 30 percent.
One reason for the district's financial woes is the continuing decline in enrollment. The number of students has fallen more than 12 percent over the last 15 years - from 1,305 in 1995 to 1,142 this school year.
A decline in enrollment means less state aid for the district, even though state funding only makes up about 10 percent of total revenue.
Can't more be cut?
In the resident survey, some respondents said the district should look at more ways to cut spending. For example, one person said Nicolet should eliminate some Advanced Placement classes and “go back to the basics.”
But District Administrator Rick Monroe said that kind of change wouldn't necessary save the district money.
“Say we only offer Spanish and Chinese as foreign language – we drop German, Hebrew and French. Since those kids have to be somewhere, and they need to take credits of foreign language to graduate, that means adding more Spanish teachers,” he said.
“Variety is the spice of life,” Monroe added. “And if students don’t get the wide variety at Nicolet, they’ll look elsewhere. Every decision we make has impact. Many are surface impacts, but what about future impacts?”
Monroe said one of the big problems facing the district is that the high school building hasn’t gotten any smaller, and heating and lighting costs keep going up. Those and other costs can’t be avoided.
“The district has higher unemployment compensation, declining special education aid due to less money in the state budget for special education funding, and higher property tax delinquencies,” Dellutri said.
The next regular School Board meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Jan. 24. Monroe said that if the board is ready, it may vote then on the referendum or it may seek for more information.
A referendum question must be approved by Feb. 18 if it is to be presented on the April 5 ballot.