Just weeks after wrapping up budgets for this school year, school districts across the state are setting their sights on next year.
"Next year will be challenging," said Don Hietpas from the Appleton Area School District. He says next year, the state will allow districts to spend about one-percent more than this year. The problem, he says, is that expenses are expected to rise three or four percent.
"What are the options? The options are pay employees less. Charge them more for their benefits. Have fewer employees. Or start cutting programs," Hietpas said.
In the Green Bay Area School District, assistant superintendent Alan Wagner is projecting a $9 million deficit next year. He says the district will have to look at cutting programs and staff.
"At this point we haven't had to reduce programs," Wagner said. "We've been very fortunate to be able to find other ways to balance the budget. But if the funding continues to decrease it'll be just a matter of time before we will have to be looking at programs and looking at staff because it gets to the point where there may be no other place to cut after that."
Do districts really need to cut programs? FOX 11 On Special Assignment reporter Robert Hornacek sat down with Governor Scott Walker to find out what he thinks.
"Are you worried about school districts cutting programs?" Robert asked.
"Well, the ones that took advantage of our tools this year have not had to do that," Walker replied.
The changes in collective bargaining, which sparked those massive protests in Madison, do allow districts to offset the cuts in state aid by having employees pay more for their pensions and health insurance. That's how districts were able to balance their budgets this year. But what about next year?
When asked whether districts should charge their employees more for health insurance Walker said, "Well, it's one of the options they have depending on where they're at. By no means are we mandating it."
"One of the things we're going to spend a fair amount of time on this next year working on is looking at schools and other local governments, what are the mandates imposed by the state that we could help repeal? What are the things that we could pull back on, the things that have been mandated in the past that school districts, for years as a local government official I complained about that," Walker continued. "We've pulled back on a number of those but we'd like to pull back on more and give local school districts, local school boards, local school superintendents more flexibility on what they actually spend things on."
Some of the mandates Walker has proposed repealing are the requirement that districts have a minimum of 180 days of school, the requirement that districts hire reading specialists, and prepare indoor environmental quality plans. Walker included the proposals in his budget, but the Legislature took them out.
Union leaders say the "flexibility" the governor talks about really amounts to more cuts for employees.
"I don't think that's fair," said Toni Lardinois, president of the teachers union in Green Bay. She's not buying the governor's plan and says cutting programs is a bad idea.
"We've cut everything that we can cut in order to be able to provide a quality education to the students. Anything else means that it is going to impact our students. Is that what Gov. Walker really intended?" she said.
Rich Carlstedt from the Brown County Taxpayers Association doesn't buy that argument.
"There's money there. But it's not being used wisely," he said. Carlstedt points to a report from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, which shows in 2010, for every student in the Green Bay school district, taxpayers spent $929 on administrative costs. That's more than Appleton ($726) and Racine ($683).
Alan Wagner says those numbers don't tell the whole story.
"Our administrative costs looked high because our noon hours and our monitor positions were actually shown as administrative positions which they aren't. They are pupil services positions. So when we made that change we were actually below the state average," Wagner said.
As for the future of school budgets, Don Hietpas says he thinks the trend of having employees pay more for benefits will likely continue.
"The question becomes when is enough enough? When do we then start driving people away from education or when do we continue to attract good people into education? I think that's yet to be determined and will become more evident over the next couple of years," he said.
Gov. Scott Walker is calling for more trees to be harvested from a national forest in far northern Wisconsin as part of the state's efforts to spur growth in its struggling timber industry.
A man convicted in an arson that was made to look like a hate crime has been sentenced to 16 months in prison.
It could be closing time for many small cinemas across the country.
When is it work? When is it abuse? The line can sometimes be blurry, when it comes to dairy farmers dealing with cows. These questions have recently been raised, after video surfaced, showing animal abuse at a local dairy farm.
When your doctor prescribes medication, you assume it's safe, but some people don't realize how dangerous it can be, if it's abused. A group of local high school students helped make a movie to shine a light on the problem.
We're learning more about what it will take to find out what caused a major fire in downtown Ripon Wednesday.