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Four up for 3 spots on school board
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MONROE - Four candidates are looking to fill three seats on the Monroe school board in the April 7 election.

Incumbents Bob Erb, Amy Bazley and Mary Berger seek to keep their seats while newcomer Nikki Saugstad is in pursuit of her first elected position. The top three vote-getters will earn a seat on the board.

Candidates said the ever-tightening budgets is a top issue facing the school district. Candidates were asked how they could balance a budget while maintaining a quality education for students.

Mary Berger, a board member since 2012, answered in an email that the board has a record of being careful about balancing the budget and controlling expenses, but, difficult choices will have to be made.

"We will need community support to increase revenue or make dramatic cuts that will change and reduce our academic programs and staff," Berger said. "Unfortunately, all choices will require sacrifices."

Current board president Bob Erb said in an email the most recent estimates from Madison show a budget deficit of more than $1.5 million next year, which Erb said is "not sustainable."

"Fortunately, by stretching our dollars over the past several years, the district has built financial reserves," Erb said. "The days of choosing between pleasure and pain are over, and, largely because of budgets coming out of Madison, the choices remaining are between pain and pain."

Amy Bazley, who has been on the board since 2008, said she thinks the only likely option to meet operating costs is to ask taxpayers for a referendum.

"Until that point we will look at every program and every part of our budget to make sure we are the most effective," Bazley said. "We will work on a case-by-case basis and find where there's room on the budget to make cuts, but they will have an impact on students."

Nikki Saugstad, a former elementary school art teacher, said in an email that an open discussion about any small changes to impact the budget is a good first step.

"Sacrifices will have to be made," Saugstad said. "We can't expect our schools to provide the same level of education when hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding is being cut."

Candidates were also asked to frame how they would approach taxpayers about a possible referendum for an increased tax levy, if need be.

Berger said the emphasis should be on community and what it wants, but that rushing to a referendum probably won't happen this year.

"Together we will need to craft what the community is willing to support," Berger said. "The community still determines what they will financially support."

Erb said he wants the best for the schools and ensure success, but remains cognizant of the community's wallet and wishes.

"Prime rib at pork prices is hard to come by, and education is no different," Erb said. "It think it's important to better understand what the community wants from the district, and what Monroe believes our long-range vision should look like."

Bazley said educating taxpayers why a referendum is necessary would be step one, and that the reason for a potential referendum is due to less state funding, not a mismanagement of the district budget.

"I think it used to be that a referendum showed poor management, " Bazley said. "Hopefully we don't need to use the levy power; we try to be good stewards of the money that they have entrusted us with."

Saugstad said trimming out all the "luxuries" in an effort to save money should come well before a referendum is considered.

"No one likes an increase in their taxes," Saugstad said. "The idea of spending more on taxes is not appealing to me, but the idea of having an underfunded school district is worse.