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Update: Somerset School District projecting $450,000 operating budget shortfall

Over the past seven years, the Somerset School District has made significant reductions to balance its operating budget, according to a survey sent out to district residents.

Those reductions have included:

• Reducing classroom budgets

• Reducing the technology budget and delaying computer replacement/upgrades

• Shifting health and dental insurance to employees

• Delaying building maintenance as well as safety and security updates

• Eliminating a bus route

• Reviewing vendor contracts for reductions and efficiency.

However, those efforts haven't been enough, and the district is looking at a projected $1 million operating budget shortfall each year, the survey said. In order to maintain current programs and services, the district will need to secure a $1 million operational referendum.

District superintendent Dr. Mark Bezek wished to clarify the information in the survey by saying that the budget shortfall the district is looking at is closer to $350,000-$400,000, rather than $1 million.

“I can see where you could get the idea that we were at a $1 million deficit based on what the survey says. However, the deficit spending number is closer to $400,000. The deficit is coming from the increase in health care and insurance costs,” Bezek said. “We are asking for $1 million because we want to be able to enhance and maintain our school district and that money will allow us to do that.”Bezek also stressed the fact that the amounts listed in the survey were just test numbers to allow the district to judge the tax tolerance of the community.

“The $1 millions is the number we thought would be enough to hopefully cover any more deficits from similar situations over the next three to five years. We will need the infusion of funds to keep things running,” Bezek said. “The numbers are all just tests to see what the wants and wishes of are, as far as the school system goes, for the residents of Somerset. We do have some money in the fund balance to cover the deficits, but the referendum will really help us keep up with increased costs.

“I know that we need to, as a district, pay attention to what the community wants and is thinking. I need their advice to help run this district as best as we can.”

According to the survey, if the voters don't support a referendum to cover the operating budget shortfall, the district will need to make significant cuts. The survey asked residents if they would support the operational referendum and, if the referendum did not pass, what they would be willing to see cut or what the district should do to balance the budget. Options included:

• Cutting teachers and increasing class sizes

• Reducing college/AP/elective courses

• Reduce busing services

• Consider reducing or postponing curriculum updates

• Reduce the number of athletic/co-curricular offerings

• Reducing support staff or delaying updates and replacement of technology infrastructure and computers.

Under current state law, approval of an operational referendum is required for the district to increase revenue to fund school operations.

The survey outlines the district's financial background and states the district's committment to being good stewards of taxpayers' dollars. The district, according to the survey, has worked hard to control costs, while still providing high-quality programs and services for its students. Since 2013, the district's tax levy has decreased 21 percent, with the tax mill rate dropping from $12.28 in 2013, to $9.73 in 2018.

The survey also states the district will be paying off a loan in 2019, which is why it feels now is a good time to consider what options it can take to address operational and facility needs, while lessening the tax impact of any new spending. For more details on district finances, visit somerset.k12.wi.us.

The survey also addressed the different capital referendum recommendations the district's Community Planning Committee recently presented to the school board at its Nov. 19 meeting.

The district is asking that the survey — which can be completed in paper format and mailed to School Perceptions in Slinger, Wis., or it may be completed online by entering your survey access number (provided on the mailed survey) at feedback2000.com — by Monday, Dec. 10. The survey results will be reported and discussed at the Monday, Dec. 17 Somerset Board of Education regular meeting and will be available at somerset.k12.wi.us.

For more information, call the district office at 715-247-4848 ext. 500.

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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