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KUSD School Board approves $6.7 million in budget cuts, closing Wilson Elementary

The board room of the Educational Support Center was solemn and silent Tuesday night as the Kenosha Unified School Board unanimously approved $6.7 million in recommended budget reductions for next year, a decision that included closing Wilson Elementary School.

By a 5-0 vote, the board made the decision to close the school, a move projected to save the district about $1.2 million, though the amount could change as logistics in classroom sizes and transportation needs change, according to administration. Board members Eric Meadows, Marry Modder, Todd Price, Rebecca Stevens and President Yolanda Adams voted in favor of the budget cuts. Board members Todd Battle and Kristine Schmaling were absent.

Wilson Elementary, 4520 33rd Ave., one of two extended-year elementaries in Unified, had 117 students enrolled on the official head count day for the 2022-23 school year. In closing the school, the administration plans to divide its boundary map at 45th Street, redrawing the district lines so that students living in the northern portion of the boundary would attend Stocker Elementary and the southern portion, McKinley. The plans call for a potential shuttle that would take students to Frank Elementary, the other school with an extended-year program with grades preschool through fourth grade.

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Closure to affect 106 students

The move affects 106 students, 64 who reside within the Wilson Elementary school boundary.

“If you look at, if we started over today and we had no buildings, but have the number of kids that we had, we would not build the same number of buildings,” Tarik Hamdan, Unified’s chief financial officer, said.

The decision to close Wilson Elementary comes after years of discussions, according to Adams.

“These recommendations weren’t just made in the last six months. This is something we’ve been talking about as a board for about four years,” Adams said. “So its finally come to that time that we have to look at it seriously.”

Modder said pushing the decision further into the future won’t make a difference either.

“To delay this decision, to table it and talk and talk and talk I don’t think really helps,” Modder said. “It’s never an easy decision to close a school and the other budget cuts as well. We have a finite number of students. We have buildings that are half empty. We have to do some consolidating.”

During discussions, Price said the district needs to examine the “lack of equity between our schools.”

“I understand choice issues. Every parent has a first choice. However, some of the pernicious effects of choice, in these instances where neighborhood schools are not supported or neighborhoods aren’t supported enough, lead us to these difficult situations,” he said. “And I would hope that in the future, we can look really squarely at equitable funding for all of our schools, because there are inequities in our school district.”

In reference to the surplus in the Wisconsin’s budget for the upcoming biennium, Stevens said there should be more advocating for funding public education.

“I think it’s helpful to understand the situation we’re in with funding, or the lack thereof. Without the birth rate, we still have to be adjusting not as drastically,” Stevens said. “We all need to be advocates and we need to take away from this situation to start advocating in the state. Any help we can get from our representatives, alderpeople and the County Board. We need your help now, so we’re not doing this again.”

Meadows said the state surplus money would not be a permanent fix for ongoing financial strife in the district.

“I think we need to be cautious about that because it’s not permanent, ongoing money,” Meadows said. “That will be a one-time infusion of money if we were to get some budget money from the state, but we can’t factor that into long-term planning to balance our budget.”

Local politicians weigh in

Local politicians also weighed in during public comment.

County Board Supervisor Andy Berg, who represents the 10th District, noted a disconnect between the City of Kenosha and Unified with decisions that affect the neighborhood’s diverse population.

“Closing Wilson Heights, which is the second most diverse district in the city and county, is bordering on systemic racism,” Berg said. “I would suggest you table this tonight and bring it forth to the community and to the city.”

Ald. Anthony Kennedy wondered why Wilson’s enrollment was so low.

“One of the things I’d like to offer is my ability to solve what the problem is. I know you mentioned the 31% enrollment in the school but I have questions,” Kennedy said. “What is contributing to that? Is it the year-round policy? Is it the uniform? Are there things at Wilson school that don’t attract parents and students and do you have that information?”

Kennedy even offered to write a resolution urging legislators to utilize some of the state surplus to help schools, particularly Wilson School.

“If I don’t know what’s going on, then I’m reacting in a way that I find myself reacting now, which is reactive instead of proactive,” Kennedy said.

Other cuts approved

The board also approved other recommendations related to the budget cuts.

On the chopping block were district contributions to employee health savings accounts. The district recommended reducing its contributions once again and to use money from the now-closed Pleasant Prairie tax incremental district or staffing funds that remain due to vacancies from fiscal year 2022-23. That one-time payment to employees’ health savings accounts, which will be made by June, would phase out the district contributions, leading to an elimination of district contributions altogether in 2023-24.

Hamdan said the removal of district contributions does not eliminate the HSAs, rather it would be up to Unified employees to contribute to their accounts.

In addition, further attrition would eliminate $1.5 million from the district’s deficit. The current projection of reductions would be 15 fewer teachers across all grade levels, which is typically done through retirements, resignations and letters of appointment, according to Hamdan.

Other district recommendations included were reducing Educational Support Center staffing, which would save the $500,000 and applying $1.5 million of one-time pandemic related emergency funds for qualified budgeted expenditures.

According to Hamdan, the district’s deficit can be attributed to a combination of declining enrollment, which is projected to result in a loss of $6 million, and an increase in healthcare expenses.

Preliminary deficit: $9.6 million

He said the $9.6 million preliminary deficit only takes into account the revenue loss from declining enrollment and the increase in healthcare expenses.

“It’s $9.6 million just to get us to knock out those two items,” he said. “We’re not even talking about salary increases, increasing inflationary costs and other things like utilities or the transportation budget. This is just phase one … The board actions now totally up to that. Anything more is going to require some more budget work or some additional assistance from the state budget.”

In its budget planning process, the district is anticipating a decrease in enrollment and an increase in expenses, such as employee health insurance.

“Our issue is we continue to decline in student enrollment,” Hamdan said. “And as long as we’re continuing to decline in enrollment, we’ll have revenue implications.”

IN PHOTOS: First day of 4K at Frank and Wilson elementary schools

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Shy on the first day

Shy on the first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

Frank and Wilson elementary 4K first day

4K students at Frank and Wilson elementary schools in Kenosha Unified had their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.


Kenosha Unified School District

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