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School board approves staff cuts
Nurses among those sacrificed due to budget deficit
School Board 2

School Board Candidate Forum

School District of Monroe residents are invited to an open forum with the four candidates on the April 2 ballot battling for three positions on the Board of Education. 

The forum is nonpartisan and in a public question and answer forum. It is hosted by MAPS, Monroe Advocates for Public Schools.

■ When: Wednesday, March 20, 2024

■ Time: 7-8:30 p.m.

■ Where: Bauer Education Center, 1220 16th Avenue


■ Jim Curran*

■ Teresa Keehn*

■ Phil Vosberg*

■ Nick Baker


MONROE — School districts across the state are facing budget shortfalls for the 2024-25 instructional year, as the State of Wisconsin sits on a budget surplus of more than $7 billion. Monroe is no different than other districts and faces a nearly $3.2 million deficit next year.

“This is partly due to public education across the state, Monroe included, continuing to be underfunded,” said Rich Deprez, Monroe’s school board president in front of a nearly full room at the Bauer Education Center during the March 11 Board of Education meeting.

While the School District of Monroe often has a deficit of around $800,000, the shortfall of state funds combined with the expiration of about $1.5 million from a 2016 operational budget referendum has left the district reeling.

Without going back to district voters for another operational referendum to close the gap, the district instead is looking at making some major cuts — which will include some staffing. School board members unanimously approved the recommended plan outlined by District Superintendent Rodney Figueroa, which will go into effect for the 2024-25 school year. The plan — not yet finalized — is to cut $937,000 through a series of attrition, reassignment of staff, line item reductions and third party services.

“There are employees who are in positions this year which will be eliminated next year. Some will be reassigned in similar available roles; some positions will just not be filled,” Figueroa said. “The recommendation keeps intact the integrity of our programs, least impacts our students, and eliminates the least amount of positions.” 

He also clarified that the capital improvement referendum with updates to Abe and the construction of the new high school — which were passed in November 2022 — may not be used toward the cost of operations. 

“Capital improvement referendum funds and interest can only be used for the building project,” Figueroa said.

The cuts outlined by Figueroa include:

●  $248,000 in supplies, equipment, and third party services.

●  $555,000 attrition and staff reassignment, which includes completing the transition of Abe to a one-section elementary school a year early.

●  $134,000 reduction or elimination of staffing, including three part-time health assistant positions, two part-time LMC aids, and one part-time crossing guard.

“This has been a difficult and challenging process for everyone involved and amplified by the fact some of the reductions are people’s jobs. We will work with our staff to address their concerns and work through their grief to find the best solutions in each area. We value all of our employees and feel the weight of the decisions which need to be made,” Figueroa told staff on Friday, March 8, three days before the school board meeting.

Through several conversations with the administration, Deprez said the board came to the difficult realization that budget reductions would be necessary to ensure that the district continues to operate with fiscal responsibility.

“We have a healthy fund balance that is projected to be around $7.4 million at the end of this school year,” Deprez said. “That may sound like a large amount, but the timing for funding from local, state, and federal sources requires the District to keep around $4.5-5 million of fund balance on hand to meet district obligations.”

Otherwise, the district will have to short-term borrow, with interest applied to the funds borrowed, while it waits for the various funding sources to come in. 

“Our fund balance is finite and will not last long if we continue to operate with a $2.8 million budget deficit,” Deprez said. “We will need to rely on that balance in the short term, being careful not to draw it down to a level that requires cash flow borrowing.”

State funding falling short

Schools, like any organization, need money to operate. In Wisconsin, funding the needs of public schools has been a growing challenge, according to the Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA). State policy limits how much a district can spend. 

The vast majority of funding comes from a combination of state aid and local property taxes. The revenue limits cap a district’s spending on a cost per student basis. Even if costs go above that level, schools are not allowed to spend more. Each district has a different revenue limit, and it is not based on student needs, either.

Between 1994 and 2009, revenue caps were adjusted for inflation. However, since 2010, that has stopped. WSPRA projects that by 2025, Wisconsin districts will be $3,300 behind inflation per student — a decrease of more than $3 million for a district with 1,000 students. Monroe has been around 2,200 students over the previous few school years, which would mean the decrease would equate to more than $7.2 million.

Much of each district’s budget goes to staffing, from teachers and aids to administration, secretarial and custodial staff. Other costs include curriculum, technology, transportation, operations and maintenance.

In order to balance budgets facing shrinking budgets, districts look at various options to trim costs. Options include deferring school maintenance, cutting programs and reducing staff, among other strategies. To maintain class sizes, keep up with rising costs, take care of school buildings and continue quality education, sometimes cuts reach their limit.

Since revenue limits were put into place, over 80% of Wisconsin school districts have turned to local voters to pass operational referendums that can close the funding gap. Some have asked multiple times. Nearby, Juda is seeking an extra $500,000 from voters in its district.

Wisconsin withheld any funding increases in the 2021-2023 biennial budget. Deprez said that action forced districts across the state to use one-time COVID-19 related ESSER funding to balance their operational budgets, instead of the intended use to help assist with additional expenses associated with the pandemic.

“During that time, we experienced some of the highest inflationary pressures in recent history. The increases we received in operational funding this year, and next, are about half of what was needed to cover what was lost in the previous budget cycle, let alone this cycle. Inflationary pressures on payroll, benefits, and services have outstripped our ability to reduce expenses through attrition while our enrollment has remained relatively flat,” Deprez said. 

In the past, the district was able to make incremental budget reductions through attrition alone, he said. 

“Those headwinds, coupled with the expiration of the $1.5 million annual operating referendum that has been in place since 2016, further compound the projected deficit for the 2024-2025 school year to around $2.8 million. That is an untenable budget deficit that we cannot rely on our fund balance alone to make up.”

At the Annual Meeting in October 2023, after being told a shortfall was coming, the school board directed Figueroa and his staff to identify between $900,000 and $1 million in reductions for the 2024-25 school year that would have the least impact on students, staff, services, and programming.

“It should be acknowledged that none of these decisions are preferable and have impact in some way regardless of characterizing them as least-impactful,” Deprez said “We realize that the proposed reductions and changes to duties in some cases are very personal to those affected by them, and I don’t want that statement to in any way minimize that impact. It is a reflection of decisions made in the context of the District as a whole, and we would not have investigated taking these steps if they weren’t absolutely necessary.”

Figueroa said that as the board moves forward with discussions regarding the 2024-25 budget and beyond, there will need to be continued discussions regarding ways to address the increasing structural budget deficit unless there is a change in school funding at the state level. 

“Another round of reductions would certainly impact more staff and the educational offerings for students,” Figueroa said on March 14. “A future request to extend the current operational referendum funding may also need to be considered.”

Siggs of support

Typically, the first school board meeting of the month has a large crowd that gathers to celebrate the Excellence in Education winners from the previous month — a student from each of the five schools and a district staff member. When that portion of the beginning of the meeting concludes, the public gallery empties in a mass exodus. 

This time, the newly emptied seats were quickly filled by further members of the public and school staff — specifically Abraham Lincoln Elementary — who were there to show their distaste for the planned cuts.

“My heart is heavy with the weight of uncertainty and concern for the future of our beloved Abe. I am not just a parent with a vested interest; I am a passionate advocate for the welfare and stability of our school community,” said Teresa Robertson, former Abe Lincoln PTO president. 

She acknowledged that the board and administration had hard decisions to make and expressed her gratitude in them trying to guide the district.

“Despite my trust in the elected members to act in the best interest of our district, I find myself standing here today feeling disheartened and frustrated. The lack of communication and readily available information regarding the decisions affecting Abe’s staffing changes leaves me grappling with uncertainty,” Robertson said.

Among the teachers leaving at the end of this school year is high school social studies teacher Jim Tostrud, who will retire after spending 37 of his 38 years in education with the district. 

Abe Lincoln guidance counselor Aaron Heim is also on the move, reportedly being relocated to the middle school. Speaking about that change caused Robertson’s voice to crackle and pause as tears began to fall while she spoke during public comment.

“The recent news of losing invaluable members of our staff, such as our dedicated school counselor Aaron Heim, has left me shattered,” Robertson said. “Aaron’s unwavering support and guidance have been a lifeline during difficult times for my children and countless others, and the thought of his absence is deeply unsettling. To say I was devastated for my second grader, the Abe students, and Aaron’s staff family is an understatement.”

Video of the entirety of the board meeting is available on the district’s website and YouTube page.

The Sun Rises On New MHS Campus

Crews tear down a line of trees on the east side of 31st Avenue in Monroe on Tuesday, March 12. The trees are part of the property of the new Monroe High School campus. Crews continued working on Wednesday, ripping out trees around the rest of the campus. Contractors were sent out at the end of February, and work will begin in earnest in the next two months. A groundbreaking ceremony is expected to take place in May. - photo by Adam Krebs