Oshkosh school officials begin talks about millions of dollars in budget cuts

Get ready for more budget cuts. Oshkosh school officials have set a tight timeline for deciding on a plan for filling a budget hole that could run millions of dollars deep.

Superintendent Stan Mack II said he will present his recommendations for budget cuts to the board next March, giving him only a couple of months to develop the plan he says will involve input from community members and teachers.

Mack outlined his process and timeline to the school board’s facilities and finance committee Thursday.

No work will begin until late January or February after the district updates its deficit projections. The most recent projections, published last January, estimated a deficit of $3.1 million for the upcoming 2013-14 school year even after cuts were made in previous years.

But, the financial landscape for schools continues to shift dramatically, making deficits difficult to project. Local property values have been slowly improving and overall revenues are projected to increase next year, though how much depends significantly on Gov. Scott Walker’s next biennial budget. On the other hand, health insurance costs are expected to balloon again after two years of cost savings, and the prices of water utilities and property insurance are expected to spike.

Mack said he wants to move quickly and deliberately to create a budget cuts plan as soon as an updated forecast is available.

Last year, district administrators released a long list of potential cuts earlier in the school year and discussed it with principals and staff for most of the year before finally settling on a plan in the spring.

Mack criticized that approach as “ripping off a Band-Aid slowly” and said, “We want to be deliberate and compressed, not having disruption in the district for nine months.”

Mack also said he wants to create a committee of 50 people, including 35 community members, 10 teachers and five administrators to develop the budget cutting plan. He said he wants to solicit applications from interested people but will ultimately ask school board members to appoint members.

About Adam Rodewald

Adam Rodewald is the senior reporter for The Oshkosh Northwestern and a member of the Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team. He has been a professional journalist since 2006. He specializes in open records, data analysis, and issues surrounding education, children and families.
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