UPDATE: School leaders take on possible cuts, layoffs, closings - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

School leaders take on possible cuts, layoffs, closings

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison school board members met Monday and began the process of looking over 202 listed options for cost cutting, including school closings, as they address a $30 million budget deficit.

Board members also have the authority to raise property taxes by $28 million, which would result in a $312 hike in the property tax bill of a $250,000 home.

Several board members said they were reluctant to rely so heavily on a tax increase during a recession to resolve the budget problem.

Several board members also said they were opposed to closing Lake View, Lindbergh and Mendota elementary schools.

Lindbergh is the district's smallest school with 225 students.

Parent Teacher Organization co-president Rebecca Kemble said the school's size and veteran staff helped support the school's large, at-risk student population.

Kemble appreciated board members' apparent rejection of the school closing option, but said the option itself was discouraging.

"We've been through this so many times, we're just weary," Kemble told 27 News.

"These old proposals that have never been accepted by the school board are trotted out as eleventh hour budget measures."

Kemble said school consolidations are legitimate discussion points, but should be approached with careful planning and not simply as a cost-cutting measure.

Among the many smaller, listed cost cutting items is ending Lindbergh's summer activity program for children.

Other proposed options developed by district staff include employee reductions, including teachers, a cutback in the number of high school freshman sports teams, and downsizing programming by Madison school community recreation.

Board vice president Lucy Mathiak said board members must be careful not to disproportionately impact lower-income school families with cost-cutting choices. Another example of an optional cut with potential to affect at-risk children is ending a summer activity program at Penn Park on Madison's south side.

Mathiak and other board members said they would propose cost-cutting and efficiency measures of their own.

Schools superintendent Dan Nerad told board members he was concerned about identified, cost cutting options in what's grouped as "tier-four." Tier-four options are considered to have the highest impact on students and include the proposed school closings.

But Nerad said he would ask board members to "definitely consider" cost cutting options in the lowest impact, "tier-one" group, to include staff and supplies reduction, revising vendor contracts and refinancing debt.

Board members next week will continue work on winnowing choices to resolve the budget hole.

School officials said limits on revenue production coupled with the lowest amount of state aid to the district in thirteen years were significant factors in the district's financial straits.

There are public forums scheduled for March 22 and April 18.

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