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Crunching numbers: Kenosha Unified School Board committees eye ways to cut to balance budget

A Kenosha Unified School District joint standing committee held a budget workshop Tuesday to identify aspects of the budget it would like to have analyzed for reductions.

"We're collecting community input and feedback before we make our recommendations," said chief financial officer Tarik Hamdan."The workshop was to get feedback as we make recommendations to the school board about budget cuts, who will ultimately make the final decisions." 

Earlier reductions to the budget were done by reducing 100 staff through attrition, KUSD superintendent Bethany Ormseth said. The district took into consideration the necessity of the position, retirements, letters of appointment and class size when reducing staff.

“These reductions that we did were initial,” Ormseth said. “And it’s these next two and three layers that are really going to have to have input.”

Hamdan said 80% of the budget is tied to something related to staffing, salaries and benefits.

The suggestions during the workshop came with the direction that core academics, extracurricular activities, classes for college credit, gifted classes and special education classes not be cut first. And, it was asked that the district not max out kindergarten through third grade class sizes.

Ormseth said topics such as gifted classes, classes for college credit and special education classes are required by the state.

Programs not geared toward the classroom, administration employee reductions and school consolidation were all given as areas to analyze for reductions. A member of one of the tables of people working on the suggestions also asked the district to define “waste” in its budget.

“When we start getting into this structural deficit, you are looking at programs, you are looking at structures of benefits — you are looking at everything,” Ormseth said.

When KUSD staff were asked about their priorities within the budget via ThoughtExchange, there were a variety of responses to different areas of the budget. Some responses included, "Start charging families for damaged Chromebooks instead of KUSD taking on the cost," "Close schools with enrollment at or below 150 students," and, "Offer buy-out deals for staff considering retirement."

Reductions are “going to have to be thoughtfully done, it’s going to have to have more eyes and more voices, because it’s not going to be as easy,” Ormseth said. “We did what was easy this year; what was obvious this year; and what was natural this year.”

Hamdan said the budget conversations are ongoing as the school board does not officially adopt the next fiscal year's budget until October. A preliminary budget will be presented to the public in September, according to Hamdan.

Until October, the district will consider staffing numbers and projection, and look to get class sizes within its policies.

"The budget discussion is going to continue," Hamdan said. "You're going to keep hearing about it pretty much at every school board meeting from now until October."


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