Ask how bad the impact of the proposed cuts in education for the next two years under Governor Scott Walker’s proposed bi-annual budget and Merrill Area Public Schools Finance director Louise Fischer pulls no punches.
“It looks bad, there is no sugar coating it,” she said Friday afternoon.
The district got an updated revenue limit worksheet from the Department of Public Instruction that morning that had the figures from the proposed budget factored in. It shows a $1.6 million decrease in the revenue cap and almost $1.7 million cut in equalized aid for next year.
She stressed that the numbers are just preliminary, depending on what the final budget does to school aid. Still, it looks like the Board of Education may have to use the Tier 2 cuts it had outlined in a four level of progressive budget cuts.
“Right now, we’re looking at a lot of things, Tier 1 for sure. A lot of items depend on the governor’s budget repair bill. That would give us some wiggle room. And even with the budget repair bill being passed in its entirety, we still will have to cut a bunch of things,” Fischer said.
And those things will most likely be teachers and staff.
“That’s the biggest thing, 80 percent of our budget is people,” Fischer said.
The board has a lot of options to look at during the budget session scheduled for later this month.
“We are going to have to find a way to deal with a $3.3 million reduction in revenue cap and equalized aid for next year,” she said.
Other factors outside the state budget will be playing out in the budget equation, such as the rising price of diesel fuel and other transportation costs, increased early retirements, and increasing utilities. These “must pay costs” are looking at an increase of $400,000 alone next year. Making up for these factors will mean reductions elsewhere in the budget.
“Very preliminary, very rough, I’m looking at a $3.7 million dollar budget reduction for next year,” Fischer said.
The board will have to determine where in the four tier system of cuts this will fall into. The total amount of cuts needed is in the threshold of the second level, but exactly how the state budget will shape out could force certain cuts.