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Mequon-Thiensville board weighs strategic plan against budgetary constraints

Oct. 31, 2012

Mequon - The Mequon-Thiensville School District has an administrative action plan to go along with the "lofty goals" of its recently approved strategic plan, but without bringing in more revenue or reducing expenses may not be able to fund the proposals which underlie the strategy.

They have, in the words of Superintendent Demond Means, a Ferrari without an engine.

After a lengthy debate on the strengths and weaknesses of the strategic planning process Monday evening, the board laid out a schedule for addressing the action plan items which could be factored into the district's 2013-14 budget.

At Monday's meeting the board will review possible budget additions and reductions as suggested by board members and receive an administrative overview of staff compensation options going forward.

In early December the board will review and potentially vote on the administration's recommended action items, as well as budget additions of their own, will give the administration guidance in terms of staff compensation goals, and will look at a list of administration and board recommended budget cuts which could be used to either balance future budgets or make room for strategic plan action items.

Means said the board needs to decide whether to finance the strategic plan within existing revenues or explore additional sources of revenue. That decision was not made before the development of the administrative action plan, said Means, so the action items were geared toward strategic plan goals, but not within any specific budgetary constraints.

"Are we generating more revenue or are we not?" asked Means. "(The board) must be more specific as you're asking us to go forth and develop frameworks for you. We need to know what parameters we're developing them within."

Paying for the plan

Echoing the position he took at an Oct. 22 meeting, board member Gary Laev said the strategic plan should have included some mechanism to mitigate decreasing enrollment and revenue, as well as a way to finance the plan itself.

"We haven't defined whether we live within the existing revenue framework or if we're going to talk about building a plan that's based on finding a way to find more revenue," Laev said. "Do we stick with the existing revenue we have today, or do we find ways to expand revenue in order to fill in for some of the objectives?"

He added that the board should consider budget neutral action items first, then look to fund budget-affecting items with either budget cuts or additional sources of revenue.

Revenue sources described in the action plan include implementing a 4-year-old kindergarten program, selling naming rights, selling district land, and a possible operational referendum.

The administration provided a list of 40 possible budget reductions to the board in March, which are ranked by impact to the district's missions and goals, from the "modest" impact of eliminating financial literacy from the middle school curriculum to the "critical" impact of eliminating literacy specialists around the district. The board will approve a list of its own recommended budget cuts on Monday which, alongside the administration cuts, will be ranked by impact to the newly approved strategic plan.

Board member Mary Cyrier, while noting that in initial meetings on the strategic plan the School Board agreed to plan first and fund later, said describing the district's vision rightfully came first.

"If you don't think big first, if you just say 'we have no money, or little money,' then you build a plan around that," Cyrier said. "Now it comes to us on the execution side to say, 'of (the action items), what are we willing to support and vote on and agree to?' "

Airing concerns

Board members said throughout their conversations that, in an effort to foster transparency when it comes to decision making, board members should be explaining their concerns early and often.

"It behooves us to identify what we're basing our opinions on," board President Suzette Urbashich said, "and bring what that evidence of our vote is, rather than just vote a certain way and not share what the evidence of that is."

However, board members disagreed on what constitutes evidence. Board member Stephanie Clark said board members should be basing their decisions on research and be willing to use that research to support their rationales. Laev said that he considers community input evidence as much as research, and different people would find evidence in different places.

The board considered adding a requirement to its policies which would require that board members explain their reasoning on votes, but decided against it, instead calling explanations of the sort an "expectation."

NEXT STEP

WHAT:School Board special meeting

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Monday

WHERE: Range Line Conference Room, Lake Shore Middle School, 10036 N. Range Line Road

MORE INFO: Available on the district website are the administrative action plan, conceptual strategic plan, and list of budget reduction recommendations.

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