School Board Quietly Passes Budget Based on Sacrifice
With no fanfare, 2011-12 spending plan is accepted that freezes all pay but harms no programs.
In the end, when it finally happened, it seemed almost anticlimactic.
After 2-1/2 hours of presentations on other matters, and with most of the few people who came having already left, the School Board passed a budget for the coming year, unanimously and with no debate, at its Monday night meeting.
Only board member Phil Kroner had anything to say, and it simply amounted to a word of thanks.
"I'm really pleased with this budget," he said. "When students come to school in the fall, they're going to see the same things, have the same teachers, and they're going to see new things as well.
"And that's thanks to the hard work of the administration and the sacrifices made by our employees."
"Hard work" and "sacrifices" might well be boldfaced, underlined and italicized in that statement to do justice to what the Wauwatosa School District accomplished in just three months. To get a balanced budget passed by the district's Monday night deadline, officials had to rewire the entire pay and benefit structure of the district and do it in record time.
On March 25, a Dane County judge ruled that the budget-repair bill passed by the Wisconsin Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker could not go into effect because, in her judgment, it had been passed in violation of state open meetings laws.
That ruling has since been overturned by the state Supreme Court, and the law could now go into effect as soon as Wednesday even though there are more challenges looming in federal court.
But at the time, there was nothing the district could do except plan for the worst: the prospect of the state budget being passed with $800 million in cuts to public schools – that happened Sunday – without any of the savings included in the stalled repair bill.
Staring at a $6.5 million budget gap, the Tosa schools administration had a choice of laying off more than 100 teachers and any number of other employees, or getting all those employees to agree to sacrifices in compensation that at any other time would have been considered draconian.
Pay freezes and higher pension and health care payments could be imposed on administrative and supervisory employees. But all teachers, teachers aides, administrative assistants and custodians are represented by unions, and all were understandably skeptical of making concessions when the state was suggesting that nearly all their collective bargaining rights be taken away.
They made those concessions anyway, even unions that had two years remaining on contracts that would not have been, for the time, affected by the state's action.
Teachers and aides accepted a one-year pay freeze. Custodians and secretaries accepted two years of no raises. All accepted higher pension payments and higher deductible health care plans. And all that went for all non-union employees as well.
The budget as passed is reduced $8 million from last year, and totals $77.5 million for the operating budget for 2011-2012. Including other costs such as the school lunch program and the recreation department, total expenditures from all funds is targeted at $82.1 million.
The tax levy is even projected to decrease, if only ever so slightly, by 0.2 percent. But for most Wauwatosa residents, what probably matters more is that no programs will be cut, teaching and support staff were hardly touched, class sizes won't increase by any significant measure and, as Kroner said: "When students come to school in the fall, they're going to see the same things."