Wauwatosa schools grappling with tough financial cuts as lack of state funding forces looming budget shortfall

NOW: Wauwatosa schools grappling with tough financial cuts as lack of state funding forces looming budget shortfall

WAUWATOSA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Several people sounded off in Wauwatosa Monday night, June 10, as the school district wrestles with funding challenges that have now endangered the future of some school buildings and programs.

The district is looking into eliminating both middle schools as a cost-saving measure. Students in grades 6-8 would be redistributed into other buildings.

Board members say many of these problems are due to severe underfunding by the state Legislature.

In addition to closing the two middle schools, the "Wauwatosa 2075" plan would also drop popular STEM programs just to get by.

Students as young as 4th graders were among the people who lined up to beg the board to reconsider.

Monday night's school board meeting started with a public plea to save schools.

Incoming Wauwatosa 5th grader Emily Jevonke said, "If you shut down middle schools, you take away the slow transition to high school."

Those gathered want to protect teachers, like parent Angela Dobbs, who said to them, "You are more than a stopgap, you are more than a line item on a budget."

And they want to preserve programs. One high school sophomore said, "This kind of decision would be a huge mistake and would hurt students' chances of succeeding in school."

The district is grappling with a difficult financial outlook.

The "Wauwatosa 2075" plan could save staffing and operating costs by closing Longfellow and Whitman middle schools.

Sixth graders would be taught in elementary schools; 7th and 8th graders would move into high schools.

Dobbs asked, "Why not actually invest money in our middle schools? Where the kids need more disciplinary support, need more support with puberty."

After public comment, the board shifted to a difficult conversation about the financial realities it faces.

Dr. Eric Jessup-Anger, the school board president, said, "There are certainly things to be concerned and anxious about. I think as a community, we should all be a little anxious."

The board says the state Legislature is severely underfunding Wauwatosa students.

Superintendent Dr. Demond Means said, "This is a statewide crisis that we're facing."

To help cope with the possible deficit, both of the district's middle schools and several STEM programs are on the chopping block.

But there's another option on the horizon. Dr. Jessup-Anger said, "We are tiptoeing into a place that's uncomfortable. That we will be asking the community for additional resources if we don't receive them."

The district will likely put two referenda to the community for a vote as they try to secure tens of millions of dollars in funding they say they are not getting from the state.

Dr. Means said, "If we don't receive the ample amount of funding from the state, all this is moot. It's for naught."

Next week, the board is expected to recommend a $48.7 million referendum to fund operating costs.

Jessup-Anger said Wauwatosa is one of just 25% of districts in the state to not ask for such a referendum yet, but a lack of funding from the Legislature is forcing their hand.

The board will vote on it next week. Voters would see it on the ballot this November.

But the district warns even a $48.7 million referendum will not close the looming budget shortfall.

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