15 Sep 2014
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Annual Budget Spells Trouble For Racine Students

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

Annual Budget Spells Trouble For Racine Students

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." 

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