Admitting in part that the board should have taken this action sooner, GMR School Board member Brandon Kuznia said that the board was about to do what the public overall was asking for: more cuts.
At a March 29 special board meeting, the GMR School Board officially made $396,485 in cuts— including a revenue enhancement of $1,350 related to increasing driver’s education fees. As part of the district’s list of 20 programs and positions to be cut, the largest involved the cutting of an English position currently occupied by Tina Taus— amounting to $82,225.
“We didn’t get a referendum passed (last November). Everybody said, a lot of voices out there, ‘We need to see cuts first and then we’ll vote yes,’” Kuznia said. “Well, you’re going to have your cuts now. So we’ll see if you step up to the plate when we have a referendum (on a ballot) next fall.”
The district made these cuts to counteract a deficit that sits at an estimated $545,371, according to budget numbers provided in July 2020.
As part of this list of cuts, the board made several related to teachers, accounting for $263,945— about 66 percent of the total cuts.
In terms of the teacher reductions, the district already approved the reduction of two teachers. Offering early retirement incentive to teachers in January, the district had two teachers accept these incentives, including physical education teacher Laura Strand and math teacher JoLeah Hasson.
The board approved these teacher resignations with this incentive, effective at the end of this school year. The board plans to reassign staff to fill these vacancies and/or eliminate electives. Strand’s position cut comes with a $66,903 reduction and Hasson’s with a $72,393 reduction.
The board also cut the one English position and reduced a Science position, one occupied by Carol Rhen, down to half time— the latter amounting to $42,424.
Other approved cuts included the following: cutting an administrative office secretary, one regular bus route driver, and a part-time social worker position (currently contracted through the Badger School District). GMR still has one social worker. The cuts also include reducing one person to the teacher relicensure committee.
The proposed cuts also extend to coaches in the athletic programs. It involves discontinuing paying for the elementary wrestling, boys’ basketball, and girls’ basketball positions. GMR Superintendent Larry Guggisberg mentioned booster clubs possibly picking up these costs.
Coach cuts also extended to one assistant at each of the following high school programs: football, girls’ basketball, wrestling, baseball, and golf. It also involves the cutting of the FCCLA Assistant Advisor position.
Other cuts include: the discontinuing of summer park and recreation payments and summer ball bus availability to the cities of Greenbush and Middle River, and the discontinuing of THE VILLAGE employee assistance program.
Board member Kurt Stenberg agreed with the size and scope of the reductions, seeing them as fitting the district’s current financial condition.
“This is not Mr. Guggisberg’s plan,” Stenberg said. “This was a plan that was worked on together.”
He then expressed how these cuts should not come as a surprise to community members.
“We’re a single-section school now and we’ve talked about this at board meetings for five, six years, how this is going to happen, so people shouldn’t be surprised,” Stenberg said. “My own personal experience, I’ve got a kid that’s (in) ninth grade (and) when he was in kindergarten, he struggled with 15 or 16 kids (in his class). That should have been a sign of things to come and I guess it was.”
Several board members did express interest in making GMR a one-section school at its March 4 work session. Currently, the GMR enrollment sits at 243, but is projected to drop to 218 next school year. The neighboring Badger School District is a single-section school and had 221 students as of March 5, 2021.
Declining enrollment, as Guggisberg explained at prior meetings, corresponds with a decline in revenue. The district is losing its largest class, its senior class of 29 students, this spring.
“I’m anticipating or my fingers (are) crossed,” Guggisberg said, “that would be the bottom of the trough for your decline in student enrollment.”
The district’s enrollment is projected to decline to 202 in the 2022-23 school year and to 182 in the 2023-24 school year before experiencing a leveling off.
Stenberg also pointed out how these reductions don’t include any cutting of programs, but these cuts may lead to some issues in class scheduling— an issue he said still needed to be worked out.
“In reality, there’s not going to be much cuts as far as programs are concerned,” Stenberg said, “reductions for students to take.”
The focus now shifts to a referendum.
“Cuts aren’t going to take care of it,” board member Joe Melby said. “We’re still going to need a referendum in the end.”
Guggisberg explained how the school still needs to do a referendum, adding how the federal COVID relief dollars— one-time money— will eventually disappear. He said the board would have to make a decision by around the middle of August in terms of what referendum to put on a ballot.
Highlighting the school’s recent state-related successes— knowledge bowl, wrestling, FCCLA, math league, basketball, Guggisberg said the district has much to be proud of.
“These are tremendous accomplishments for your school and what we should be proud of is these programs still remain here,” Guggisberg said. “But we are putting ourselves in a structurally correct position… having yourself in a one-section school is where your enrollment is.”
Guggisberg explained how the board will have to decide on how much to make a proposed referendum— a renewal of its current referendum, a renewal plus an additional one, or just a larger one. He added how the district has one more shot at passing a referendum— the November 2 election— before the current one expires.
“If it passes, that’s great… If it fails you will be doing budget cuts and you will not have some of the programs and activities that you currently have,” Guggisberg said. “So I’m optimistic. I can say in my 31 years as a school administrator I’ve never lived in a community that has not supported their school and I sure hope this is not the first one.”
Board member Allison Harder explained why the district is making these cuts.
“I just think we’re making these cuts basically to keep the school alive,” Harder said, “to keep the communities alive and that’s what we have to do.”
She explained how she has young Gators in the GMR School and wants them to graduate as Gators, as do many others in the community, she added.
“To make these cuts is hoping that this fall we will have the support we need on the other end to make that happen as well,” Harder said. “So I think it’s important that people need to know that we need voting yes in the fall. Everybody needs to start talking about it now because we still need that to happen, along with what we’re doing today.”
Next Meeting: The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting will take place on April 19 at 7:30 pm in the GMR School Cafeteria.