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Nicolet could decide on referendum tonight

District in 'dire straits' if it doesn't get additional funds

Jan. 26, 2011

Glendale — Nicolet High School officials are proposing a referendum to stave off projected budget shortfalls of more than $2 million in the next several school years. A final decision could be made as soon as Thursday.

The discussion comes on the heels of a recent survey administered by School Perceptions. About half of the more than 1,100 respondents within the Nicolet community favored a referendum in some form to close forthcoming budget shortfalls.

When asked about a $2 million operating referendum to support existing programs and services, 48 percent of parents favored the proposal, while 34 percent of non-parents expressed a similar sentiment.

Fifty-nine of the respondents favored a referendum if the Nicolet portion of their tax bill went up $40 annually on a home valued at $250,000. There was less support - 40 percent - for the top referendum option on the survey that would have called for a $121 annual increase.

Despite the results, some members of the community are imploring officials to go for a higher referendum figure, as evidenced by comments made at a School Board meeting last week.

"The School Board needs to show leadership," resident Craig Zetley said. "You have to mobilize the community to understand the dire situation. I made the decision to move into this area because the school district is so great."

Dann Jacobson, a Glendale resident and social studies teacher at Nicolet, said he oftentimes attempts to inspire his students to be courageous, show determination and take risks.

"You've shown the courage and you've shown the determination," Jacobson said to the board, praising them for exploring the referendum proposal. "Let's rally together … and make this a shining school on the hill."

Glendale resident and School Board candidate Morton Grodsky said Nicolet's deficit affects all residents within the four communities, regardless of whether they have children attending the school.

"If we don't have a referendum, we're going to continue being in dire straits," Grodsky said. "The backbone of our country is our public schools. Nicolet happens to be one of the finest."

Business Manager Jeff Dellutri said several compounding issues have affected Nicolet in recent years. Among them: declining enrollment and the fact Nicolet is within a so-called property-rich district, meaning it is funding more so by taxes than state aid.

"This won't be solved by everybody just taking a (pay) freeze," Dellutri said. "The problem is much bigger than that."

Nicolet in recent years has been slashing its budget, including personnel reductions through layoffs and attrition to respond to the projected deficits.

"This school has a long history of staying within its means," District Administrator Rick Monroe said.

As part of the planning process, administrators are proposing a number of cuts for the 2011-12 school year to help shore up the deficit.

Reductions could include the elimination of up to 18 assistant athletic coaching positions, the college preparatory Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, program and one physical education instructor position that would result in larger class sizes.

Administrators' proposed reductions would not address all of the shortfalls if a referendum were not sought. For that reason, School Board member Ellen Redeker suggested asking for a more conservative amount so the chances of the referendum passing were greater.

"If it fails, we've got nothing," she said.

Board member Kelly Herda said it is important the entire community understands Nicolet's situation.

"This is going to require door-to-door, face-to-face conversations," she said. "It's especially important we reach people without students in the district. We have a lot of work we have to do in a short amount of time."

Most residents within Glendale and a portion of those within River Hills face the prospect of a second school referendum. Glendale-River Hills, a K-8 feeder district, is also contemplating a referendum this spring. Their board is slated to take the issue up at a meeting Feb. 16.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: The Nicolet School Board will further discuss and could take action on a proposed referendum in April.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Nicolet High School, 6701 N. Jean Nicolet Road

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