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Heavy cuts still not enough in Franklin schools' budget

Preliminarily at least, package points to 3.9% tax hike

July 6, 2010

Franklin — About $1.2 million worth of reductions, including the elimination of two full-time-equivalent elementary guidance positions and librarians, are included in a budget draft passed by the Franklin School Board.

Even with the cuts, the school district property tax levy would rise 3.9 percent compared to last year.

In total, eight full-time positions would be cut, trimming the number of full-time employees from 404 to 396. The budget calls for a number of other reductions, such as limiting out-of-district travel, reducing custodial staffing and cutting the software budget.

The $50.8 million combined spending on regular and special education expenses would be 3.8 percent higher than last year. The district estimates it will generate $426,000 in revenue through the state's Open Enrollment program, which allows non-resident students to attend district schools.

Preliminary tax assumptions

From a tax statement, all of this still amounts to a moderate tax increase, though officials said the 3.9 percent figure is just an estimate. Many factors, such as the total assessed value of homes and businesses within the district and total enrollment for the 2010-11 school year, are still to be determined.

If all preliminary numbers remain unchanged, the tax rate would be $11.71 per $1,000 of assessed property value, up from $11.32 last year.

Residents will pass a tax levy at the Aug. 25 annual meeting. The School Board will formally adopt a budget and tax levy Oct. 27.

Largely because of the tax figures, board member Janet Evans cast the lone dissenting vote against the budget, which passed 5-1.

Evans said the 3.9 percent levy would too severely impact residents, who are still battling through unemployment and economic struggles.

"We said a year ago at the annual meeting that we were going to work harder … on the budget," she said. "I haven't seen it yet."

Other board members said they wanted to "smooth out" the levy increase from year-to-year - in other words, avoid making a smaller increase this year only to have to sharply increase the levy next year.

Cost of Reinke reassignment

Also part of the budget is about $150,000 in building administration costs that is part of reassigning Robinwood Elementary Principal Thomas Reinke to Franklin High School, Superintendent Steve Patz said.

Reinke was reassigned following a two-month investigation into sexual harassment allegations. The district did not find evidence supporting the allegations, but did conclude his behavior was inappropriate and suspended him, according to a Journal Sentinel report.

Patz said the $150,000 number will likely change as more becomes certain about staff assignments.

"When we entered into the reshuffling of administrative staff, one of issues that was presented to the board, and I emphasize one, was that the additional administrator at the high school was something we may have to do because of contractual obligations and so on," he said. "It is budgeted in there as a worst-case scenario but it would be irresponsible for us not to put a number in there."

A Robinwood parent, Evelyn Polster, spoke to the board June 30 supporting Reinke. She asked officials to reconsider moving him to the high school.

"Mr. Reinke has taken ownership of his actions," she said. "I challenge the School Board to choose the most reasonable resolution based on all of the information."

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