The Hudson Board of Education was told last week that state education aid could be cut even further than the $1.8 million already anticipated by the school district. Also on the agenda for the monthly meeting was the passage of program, operations and staff reductions for the 2009-10 district budget.

Director of Financial Services Tim Erickson said the state's Joint Finance Committee has recommended that general school aids be reduced by $147 million for the 2009-10 school year and the same amount for 2010-11, a 3.1 percent reduction.

These provisions are not final. What happens depends on the state budget deficit, which is expected to climb, and what the governor and legislature decide to do about it. The problem for the school district is that state education aids are not finalized until October.

Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten and her staff presented their recommendations for the preliminary budget to the board, and the board approved them. The budget included cuts in programs and operations of around $900,000 and staff reductions amounting to $154,000. More staff reductions had been initially proposed but with federal stimulus money for special education, the district was able to shift local funds allocated for those programs and staff to scale back staff layoffs.

Questions about the use of the stimulus money were raised by teacher representative and media specialist Becky Fowler of River Crest Elementary and teacher and WCEA union representative Scott Ellingson. All were concerned that the stimulus money was not being used as intended for special education or, more generally, to save jobs.

Deputy Superintendent Nancy Sweet said the district was directed to use all federal stimulus money to fund special education programs and staff that were already part of the district's budget plan. The district funds previously allocated for special education could then be used to help offset staff layoffs being considered districtwide.

Director of Student Services Barbara Rebhuhn reported earlier in the meeting that the number of full-time professional staff in special education will remain the same for the upcoming school year. She said that while some assignments and number of hours would change, the total hours of special education assistants would also stay the same.

Rebhuhn said that as individual students' needs and building location change from year to year, some reallocation of time and assignments is necessary.

Sweet also indicated that while a media specialist position at Willow River Elementary and the theater teacher position at Hudson High School were being eliminated, no teachers would lose their jobs due to a resignation and a re-assignment to Hudson Middle School. Fowler noted that with no media specialist at Willow River, students could go more than six days without seeing a librarian. Willow Principal Dave Grambow said he and other principals are currently working on a plan to address that issue. He said media assistants would still be available at the school's library.

Sweet also noted that regarding a reduction in part-time custodial staff, one full-time custodian requested to decrease to part time, which allowed for the transfer of those hours to the affected employee. The only other staff reduction was a cut in a secretarial position at the Administrative Service Center for a savings of $26,500.

Board member Mark Kaisersatt was the only dissenting vote regarding the budget cuts. He said he could not support any cuts in staff because he believes it will adversely affect education in the district. He does support an across-the-board wage freeze.

Even with the budget cuts, the School Board would like to see a districtwide salary freeze in an effort to avoid any mill rate increase for the coming year. Even with the approved cuts, the new budget will likely call for a 4 to 5 percent increase in the mill rate without the salary freeze. The three unions in the district representing the teachers, support staff and custodians have been asked to consider a two-year freeze. Contract negotiations are currently underway.

The teachers are expected to make their proposal to the district and react to the district's request at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday night.

When asked, Erickson said that the mill rate could increase to double digits, 10 to 15 percent, if the wage freeze and other measures were not taken.

Ellingson pointed out to the board that the Hudson School District has for more than a decade decreased its mill rate while continuing to have among the lowest cost per student in the state. He also noted that the district has levied below the allowable limit for the past several years, an action that he believes has adversely affected the district's current financial situation.

Board President Dan Tjornehoj, the most senior member of the School Board, said, "This is not an easy decision. We've never had to face as tough a decision as this. None of the options are that great. We have to try and weigh what we pass on to the taxpayers and what we have to cut back and try to be fair to everyone involved."

For more information about the budget, contact the Hudson School District at (715) 377-3700 or go to www.hudson.k12.wi.us.