District works to combat budget shortfalls

In March of the 2021-2022 school year, a budget report was released by the Shorewood School District predicting a budget deficit of 1,778,281 dollars for the 2022-2023 school year, along with an increasing deficit in the years to come. The budget shortfalls were attributed to a variety of complex factors, including dropping enrollment and insufficient state funding. In response, the district proposed multiple near-term strategies to counterbalance the effects of these factors and are in the process of incorporating them into the district.

At the annual meeting and budget hearing held on August 23, 2022, the board released an updated version of the previous budget report, including a plan to combat the budget shortfalls, detailing near, mid and long-term solutions.

“I feel like we’ve made good decisions and things are moving forward in a positive direction,” said JoAnn Sternke, District Interim Superintendent.

While a further developed plan has been utilized, the budget situation itself has not improved since March. Despite this, Emily Berry, Vice President of the School Board, is optimistic that the district has become more prepared to face what challenges lay ahead. 

“Given inflation, given other mounting needs, the discrepancy between what we have and what we need is bigger now than last year,” Berry said. “But I think we have a better situation as far as our ability to assess exactly where we are and then respond.”

The district report defines “near-term” as within the 2022-2023 school year. One strategy in this category that has already been successfully carried out is the compensation increase for all current staff members. The increase of 4.7 percent was implemented based on the Consumer Price Index calculated for the previous year, and was applied to all staff members regardless of position.

“Everyone’s been impacted by inflation, but the less you’re making the more you’re impacted because the more your salary goes to basic necessities,” said Heather Heaviland, Director of Business Services. “One of the things that we wanted to make sure that we did is that every staff group and every salary schedule in the district was allocated the same amount, and we weren’t prioritizing one group over the other.”

The second near-term strategy that has already been executed is workforce alignment. The district reported a net decrease in salary cost of 595k due to both layoffs and retirements. Although there were only a small number of layoffs, the district tried to make layoff decisions that didn’t affect students in their day to day lives. 

“[The board] really prioritize[d] jobs that aren’t directly students facing,” Berry said.

The third strategy is leveraging the remaining 500k of the ESSER funds, a short term relief package designed to help public schools prepare for, prevent and defend themselves against Covid-19. The district utilized part of the ESSER funds for the Student Technology Enhancement Plan, which was used to purchase the chromebooks.

“We would’ve had to dip into something else just to get [the chromebooks], so it has a great ripple effect,” Berry said.

The school has also used the funds on additional staff positions.

“We’ve hired nursing staff, long term substitutes, and some of those things that are still impacted because of Covid,” Sternke said.

We still have a state budget that has no increases for education… That’s a significant challenge.”

— Heather Heaviland, Director of Business Services

A large problem currently facing the district is a lack of increasing enrollment, which is necessary to raise revenue proportionally to inflation. According to the data released at the August board meeting, district enrollment has continuously decreased since the 2018-2019 school year, from 1,878 to 1,718 students who live within the district. 

One mid-term strategy– “mid-term” being defined as a range of one to five years– is to expand marketing attempts in order to raise yearly enrollment. 

“Enrollment determines a good portion of your state funding,” Berry said.

State aid is a major source of revenue for the district. The total state aid decreased by more than 500k between the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years. A large portion of the state aid for the district is through per-pupil funding, allocated to districts depending on the amount of students living within the district. The state per-pupil aid has remained static, which, along with declining enrollment, has contributed to declining state aid for the district. 

“We still have a state budget that has no increases for education,” Heaviland said. “That’s a significant challenge, but as a district I feel like we’re having the right conversations and making some smart choices.” 

Due to the fact that state funding is an issue afflicting all Wisconsin public schools, communication between districts is often helpful in working toward a solution.

“The challenges we’re facing are not unique,” Sternke said. “[The district] belongs to an organization called the Southeast Wisconsin School Alliance, which gets many of our districts working together on a common voice regarding [funding].” 

A related mid-term strategy is a continued push for greater state funding.

“Our other role as a board is to advocate for the district when it comes to state funding. That’s our big source of income, and we do rely on it to be able to meet the need of our students,” Berry said. “It’s important to realize the state is sitting right now on at least a five billion dollar budget surplus.” 

Sternke believes that raising awareness to the lack of state aid is essential to helping the district through the budget deficit. 

“I think that our legislators need to hear that public education is important and needs to be funded.” Sternke said. “funding is really important to us and it’s a message that we need to share very, very loudly and clearly.”

Advocating for greater state-supplied financial support can be accomplished in a number of ways. 

“We can invite [state legislatures] here and talk with them. We can also write them and their aids,” Sternke said. “And I have to say the board here is well networked and takes advantage of those opportunities.”

“Long-term” plans, or plans designed to be carried out in five or more years, include the diversification of funding sources. 

“You’re probably aware of seed, our private funding partner,” Berry said. “Of course we will get donations sometimes from alumni and even from companies, and those funding sources are very welcome and important, but they will never really be at the scale of state funding.” 

Regardless of the changes in the district, Shorewood will remain true to its mission of equity, growth and excellence for all.

“We look at our mission and want to make sure as we move forward that we preserve what makes our school district unique,” Sternke said.