A report in the March 11 Journal Times detailed how, even if the Racine Unified School District were to receive its share of the full amount Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, proposes for public education — a net tax increase of $551 million that, given the response from Republican leaders in the Legislature, seems highly unlikely — Unified would still have much of a projected $10 million budget deficit to deal with.
It’s true that Racine Unified has challenges other districts in Racine County, and elsewhere in southeast Wisconsin, do not have. More than 60 percent of RUSD students live in poverty.
As a public school district, Unified is obligated by law to educate all students who come through its doors, including special-needs students. The district spends about $50 million per year on special education, Chief Financial Officer Marc Duff said; its state aid is currently about $11 million, and it receives some federal aid for special education.
The challenges of educating all of the children who attend Unified schools are substantial, and those challenges are certainly factors in the budget deficit.
But those factors don’t absolve Unified’s decision-makers from doing right by those who are footing the bill: The district’s taxpayers.
Unified has dedicated $8.2 million toward a new swimming pool at Case High School, with the possibility that the new pool would serve more than one high school’s competitive team.
In light of the district’s budget deficit, where is the offset for this new, large expenditure?
That question is more important for School Board members to be answering than whether having two schools share a pool will affect the performance of the teams in competition. Determining where the offset will be also seems more important than asking whether the busing costs of pool sharing will negate the gains of a shared facility. Especially when Unified reports it is saving $250,000 in utility costs this year with the Case pool closed.
Making sure each comprehensive high school has its own swimming pool seems like a luxury, especially when compared with other educational needs, in Unified’s current financial situation.
Unified administrators, and the Unified School Board, must demonstrate a willingness to make the hard choices. That will be better for the district in the long term, and it should be done independent of the amount of state aid coming from Madison in the next two years.