The specter of a "worst-case" scenario that would leave the Wauwatosa Schools facing a $6.5 million shortfall seemed to loom more likely this week as Superintendent Phil Ertl began to talk in specifics about where big cuts would have to come.
"One thing I can tell you," Ertl said Monday, "we will not be recommending contract extensions" to unions that serve the district.
The problem facing Ertl and his staff is that the savings included in legislation AB10, known as the budget repair bill, that would make up most of a 5.5 percent overall reduction in school aid in the proposed state budget, is in limbo while AB10 makes its way through court challenges.
It's a double-whammy for the schools if the state budget goes into effect without the provisions of AB10 in place. The school district must adopt a budget by June 30 and has an even earlier June 1 deadline for delivering notice of teacher layoffs, leaving little time to find deep spending cuts.
"Whether AB10 goes into effect or does not go into effect, our driving force is the budget," Ertl told the School Board. "I believe we will be able to bring a balanced budget forward for consideration."
Board member Phil Kroner told Ertl that he did not want to see program cuts.
"Define 'program,'" Ertl said.
"Art... music... larger class sizes," Kroner replied.
Ertl then made it clear where he was headed.
"We're not looking to cut art or cut music," he said. "We're looking for concessions from our employees."
Even if he were willing to make major program cuts or large faculty layoffs, it would not fill the gap, Ertl said. Two weeks earlier, Ertl had noted that cutting class offerings would only force more students into remaining core classes.
Hypothetically, he said, "Adding 10 students to every class, we're still short $1.5 million."
Avoiding the unpopular choices of cutting programs or increasing class sizes by reducing faculty leaves only one real option – getting faculty and staff to accept major concessions on pay and benefits, and soon.
Calling the budget an "ongoing process," Ertl repeated that the district would fulfill its mandated obligation: "Our goal, first and foremost, is to present a balanced budget by June 30."