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Mequon-Thiensville homing in on budget details

World languages program scrutinized

Jan. 8, 2013

Mequon - Administration around the Mequon-Thiensville School District is working to produce recommendations on which strategic plan action items the School Board should consider including in the district's 2013-14 budget.

Superintendent Demond Means presented updated lists of recommended strategic plan budget additions and potential budget cuts to the board Monday at a working meeting. Means said district administration will present final recommendations to the board and public in the coming weeks, giving the board time to deliberate before they take up a preliminary 2013-14 budget in March.

"You'll have the opportunity to vote on (strategic plan initiatives) line item by line item," Means told the board.

Since district administration last presented its recommendations in early December, several strategic plan budget items have been removed from the list, including staff training, student behavioral assessments and assessment software, program evaluations, and a redesign of the district's website. Several other big-ticket items like a K-6 world language program, human resources director, communications director and professional development are being closely scrutinized by the district as it nears its recommendation.

"We understand we can't do everything," Means said. "We can't be all things to all people, and frankly, we can't afford to do everything that was on that original (December) list."

To incorporate all recommended strategic plan items into the 2013-14 budget, the School Board would need to use nearly $550,000 worth of administration-recommended budget cuts on top of its other available funding.

World languages

Although Means described the K-6 world languages initiative as the "real core of the action plan" at the December board meeting, the program has since dropped to the lowest priority position on the list of recommendations.

The world languages program, including three hires and materials, comes with a price tag of $350,000 and is geared toward exposure to foreign languages and not necessarily language learning. Means said the program is causing an internal debate as to whether staff is willing to sacrifice other classes to accommodate it.

"If we're talking about a language (learning) program … I can strongly support world languages, but that means there's some instructional sacrifice somewhere else," Means said. "I don't know if (an exposure program) is worth $350,000."

"How does that forward what we're trying to do here?" said board member James Liska. "I'm not sure (an exposure program) by itself is more than a drop in the bucket."

Curriculum Director Eric Dimmitt said that if changing to a language learning program wouldn't increase the cost, but would require more class time - 70 minutes per day instead of 35 - and "staffing would be a wash."

New positions

Currently included in the recommendation are human resources and communications director positions. When asked by board member Gary Laev how he would prioritize them, Means said he would pick the human resources position.

"I don't know of too many organizations in Mequon or Thiensville … that are fifty million dollar plus organizations with four hundred plus employees, that don't have someone managing their most expensive line item - human resources," said Means, adding that state-mandated teacher and administrator evaluations make the position "that much more important."

Unlike other school districts, he added, Mequon-Thiensville would not look for someone with a background in education.

"We would look for someone legal," Means said, "or someone with private sector HR experience."

Retaining identity

Throughout the discussion, board members stressed that the budget additions and reductions shouldn't compromise the goals of the strategic plan, or, as board member Stephanie Clark said: "I want to make sure that at the end we don't have a strategic plan and no way to get there."

"I'm trying to continually evaluate where the biggest, most important impact would be, so as to not misguide my thinking about what to decide on," Laev said.

Board member Mary Cyrier added that the choices shouldn't weed out a large number of small budget items.

"We're trying to get to ($500,000 in reductions)," Cyrier said. "Let's focus on big things to get there, but stay with that framework."

Two of the highest-priced items, world languages and professional development, at an added cost of $350,000 and $100,000 respectively, will be looked at closely.

"They could change significantly between now and two weeks from now," Means said. "They could be significantly reduced."

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