Annual Budget Spells Trouble For Racine Students

District's top financial official indicates challenges on the horizon for pupils due to cuts.

Racine students will bear the brunt of the massive budgetary challenges that the Racine Unified School District faces next fiscal year, the district's top financial official said Monday.

Racine students will have less help in the classroom, their parents will pay more in school taxes and the district will spend less on each of them than compared to neighboring school districts, the district's financial officer David Hazen said as he presented the . 

Less Staff at All Levels

Hazen began his presentation to the school board by describing the staff layoffs, which amount to 123.56 full time equivalents of teachers, administrators and support staff. 

"Whether it's an educational assistant, an administrator, secretary or teacher, there won't be as many adults in the building and in the central office to do the work of the district," he said.

Many of these layoffs - 84.49 full time equivalents - come in the form of educational assistant positions throughout the district. After the meeting, outgoing superintendent James Shaw explained the importance of education assistants in the classroom and for students. 

"They are second teachers in the classroom. That is not always the case, but that is the goal," he said. "Our teachers are very concerned about the loss of the educational assistants." 

Over the last few years, Shaw explained, educational assistants have been asked to be more focused on the learning that takes place in the classroom. This means tutoring students, he said. It also means giving over-the-shoulder, individual attention to students at the same time the teacher lectures in front of the class. 

"It's hard to describe the (educational assistants) with an overarching role because they have to meet the needs of the children," he said. 

Some educational assistants have a custodial function with special education children in that they help them throughout the day, especially when they transition from classroom to classroom. Other educational assistants work in young elementary school classrooms that have 30 or more children. 

"The really excellent (educational assistants) really know the kids and how they learn and how they think," Shaw said. "They build a relationship with these kids and that can really make a difference. There is no doubt in my mind that this is going to make it more challenging."  

As of Monday, Hazen said that it is unclear how many actual education assistants will be laid off. That amount will be clearer as the district learns of the impact of resignations and retirements as they relate to the needs of the district.

"There is some attrition, but not the attrition necessary to make layoffs not happen," Hazen said.

The Impact on Property Taxes

Even with cuts in personnel, Racine property owners face an increase property taxes. The amount is preliminary, because the district does not know the the voucher counts, the specific state aid amount or the assessed value amounts. Those figures that will be finalized this fall.

"This is a very scary slide for many reasons. For one, it shows a tax levy increase, but that number is based on an estimate of an estimate of an estimate," Hazen said as he worked through his presentation. 

"If that assessment goes down, that rate may jump up because they aren't collecting any more tax dollars but they are spread over smaller amount of property value," he added. 

Racine Unified School District property owners are expected to see a in their tax rate and pay $8.99 per $1,000 of equalized value for the 2011-2012 school year, according to preliminary estimates. 

A Look Behind the Numbers

On the expenditure side, the Racine Unified School District will spend $12,023 on each of its students, less than several neighboring districts, including Kenosha, Franklin and Elmbrook. 

Hazen said this is counter to notion that the district should make more cuts rather than raise taxes to balance the budget. 

"In an earlier slide, we showed that we have students with higher needs because of poverty … so the expectation is to spend less on students that have greater needs in order for the taxes to go down when districts that don't have the needs can spend more," he said. 

To top it off, more Racine students are considered disadvantaged today compared to 2008. The number of disadvantaged elementary school students grew 13 percent and the number of disadvantaged middle school students increased 25 percent during the time period. 

The number of high school students that are disadvantaged increased 26 percent from 2008 to 2011, Hazen indicated during his budget presentation. 

"What happens many times is that in elementary school, you have young families just getting established and they may have a more difficult time, but as their children get older and they get more established, that tends to change," he said. "But even those numbers have been increasing and actually increasing at a faster rate than in elementary school." 

Heather in Caledonia August 16, 2011 at 01:12 PM
What does "disadvantaged" really mean and why do these kids cost more? and does the district benefit somehow (grant money?) from having more kids listed as disadvantaged? Yes, assistants have been a big part of teaching lately because 1) someone needs to be on top of them along with the teachers because they can't behave enough to actually sit down and learn 2) it's cheaper to employ assistants who don't have Bachelors degrees to teach the kids than it is actual teachers 3) putting kids with learning and emotional problems in with the rest of the kids requires someone to ride those kids constantly to keep them from disrupting the class. Maybe punishing kids who misbehave and cutting back on inclusion would help to deal with the cutback in assistants. I have family members who are assistants and are worried about their jobs for this year. I'm sorry to see that and I hope they do get positions, but I also am not looking forward to raising our taxes (AGAIN) to continue to support a failing system. At least they'll have an extra $60,000 to put towards the kids since the moving costs to their new building appear to be coming in under budget. Ummm... that WILL go towards helping the students or maintaining schools, right? ;)
Heather in Caledonia August 16, 2011 at 01:17 PM
Oh, never mind. I just re-read that last paragraph and I think I understand what "disadvantaged" means. Children who where born to 14 year old girls who aren't sure who or where the father is. They live with their mom's current boyfriend or some random family member and we need to not only try to teach them to read, write and do math, but we need to feed and clothe them and attempt to get them to understand how to function in society. A society beyond the ghetto culture they live in. Gotcha. the more I see these being a problem, the more I think a government boarding school would be better for these kids than what they have. Maybe that would help to keep them out of the other "gov't boarding school" called Juvenile Detention.
Chris Larsen August 16, 2011 at 01:31 PM
I missed the part where Hazen justifies the 10 + million spent on a new central office and the shady old building land scheme. He must have left that slide at home.
Stacey August 16, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Well said Heather...
Patrick C. Tetzlaff August 16, 2011 at 02:01 PM
Interesting that when RUSD rushed through the contact extensions on March 10 2011 it was all hugs and celebration over the fact that the contract extensions were going to fix the budget hole. Many other districts across the state, that waited until the budget repair bill passed, have been reporting a budget surplus with some districts even hiring new teachers. Frustrating that our local board was not interested in taking full advantage of all the tools provided by Governor Walker and the legislature to help save the taxpayers money. Instead we are talking about layoffs and tax increases which is the alternative that the RUSD board has selected.
wisconsincitizen August 16, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Your headline is wrong. It should read "RUSD Students Bear the Brunt of School Board's Continual Fiscal Mismanagement."
Chris Larsen August 16, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Or better yer "Taxpayers Bear the Brunt of School Board's Continual Fiscal Mismanagement, But We Voted Them In so We Get What We Vote For"
John Warren, OD August 16, 2011 at 05:17 PM
You have to wonder what the RUSD board could have done if they had waited until after they had the negotiating tools provided legislatively. But its all about the kids at RUSD, right? Ok, checking out of sarcasm mode. Since when did an elected school board not put the concerns of the public and the students ahead of their empoloyees? As others have said, many school districts across the state are doing well and/or better under the new funding and negotiation program than in past years. Too bad that RUSD decided to act before those programs went into law.
Brian Dey August 16, 2011 at 07:38 PM
31,000 students(k-12)/1,600 teachers in 1991. 18,500 students(k-12)/1,600 teachers in 2011-12. There is room to cut a minimal of 250 teachers which equates to approx. $15 million. 80 central office staff in 1991. 200 central office staff in 2011-12. Cut 100 administrators which equates to $11 million. Already a $26 million savings and still staffed at higher levels than 1991 per pupil. Now redistrict and close a couple of schools and save $2 million. Then make the teachers actually work 40 hrs per week and there is another $1.2 million. It is that simple, and nearly $30 million in savings. Time for hope and change on the school board!
Tom August 17, 2011 at 02:38 AM
One only need look at the State test scores for Park and Case high schools to conclude that RUSD couldn't successfully educate our children even if they had infinite funds available. With scores at 50%, these schools, teachers and administrators have failed our children for decades. http://paradigmslayer.com/2011/02/22/racine-unified-is-a-failure/ It's time to stop RUSD from wasting tens of millions of dollars while failing to educate our children. By comparison, the Kenosha high schools score in the mid 60% and Union Grove & Central HS score in the mid 80%. Shame on you RUSD!!!
Tom August 17, 2011 at 02:53 AM
Brian, your analysis is dead on correct. RUSD has never had any interest in running a lean and effective school system.


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