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WEST ALLIS — School district officials disclosed this week that academics and sports would be cut if a $12.5 million spending referendum does not pass on April 4.

High school tennis, gymnastics, swimming, diving and golf may be discontinued, and class sizes may increase at the high school and intermediate levels, they said. Also, targeted is cutting performance pay for the district's 720 teachers by $1 million.

The West Allis-West Milwaukee School District is asking voters to approve a referendum, allowing annually $2.5 million more in spending for the next five years than state revenue limits allow in property taxes.

That should yield enough money to keep programs going and to enable the district to pull itself out of the sea of red ink left over from the previous school administration, school officials say.

If the referendum passes, the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would pay about $58 more annually in property taxes for the next five years, officials estimate.

If in five years the district still is not financially stable and needs the higher funding, it would have to go to another referendum, said Andrew Chromy, director of finance and operations. The tax rate could not remain high at the end of those five years, if it exceeds state revenue limits at that time, he said.

The cuts

The district must get back to sustainability, officials said. If the referendum fails, $2.5 million in cuts will be needed.

Those cuts, made public Monday, include dropping high school tennis, gymnastics, swimming, diving and golf. They were picked because they would affect the fewest students, Chromy said.

Also cut would be all intermediate sports. The high school and intermediate sports cuts together would save an estimated $250,000.

Also cut would be elementary music lessons, for a $140,000 savings.

The maximum target class size would increase by three students at the intermediate and high schools, meaning the current maximum target of 30 per class would rise to 33, Chromy said. The savings there would be $560,000.

Besides having larger classes, teachers would feel the cuts by having only half as many technical support people to help them use technology in their classrooms. Although the district is aggressively pursing use of technology, cutting support people was chosen because it was better than cutting teachers, Chromy said. The savings would be $560,000.

Also, performance pay for teachers who meet certain district standards of excellence would be cut in half. Currently, the district has $2 million to distribute as performance pay. That would go down to $1 million, he said.

How it happened

The roots of the district's financial woes go back to 2007-2008 with the purchase of Lane Intermediate School and the buildings on 70th street, multiple capital improvement projects funded with district reserves, debt payments connected to bad investments, expansion to all-day 4K, poorly structured leases for electronic technology and inconsistent budget oversight. Those factors are blamed for $20 million in overspending, officials admit.

The question school officials know they have to overcome in voters' minds is whether they can trust school officials with more dollars.

Chromy said they can.

"There's a whole new administrative team focused on making a great school district but a sustainable school district," he said.

Checks in place

A number of checks have been put into place to be sure nothing like that happens again, he said. Those checks are detailed on the district's website:

A full-time staff accountant/CPA to oversee expenditures and new accounting firm.

Additional school board oversight in creating budgets.

The budget was revamped for increased spending accountability.

Other efforts

In trying to avoid a referendum, school officials have been selling properties to raise money and cutting the operating budget by at least 4 percent.

Since the new leadership team started in the 2015-2016 school year, the district has reduced expenses and cut $8 million dollars from operating costs, including $2 million dollars from staff compensation. The operating budget this year is about $105 million.

If the referendum passes Chromy said, "We wouldn't be 100 percent back in five years, but we would be close." The fund balance that gives the district financial stability would be an estimated $20 million by the end of the five years.

That is 17 percent of the district's operating budget, Chromy said.

Meetings on referendum

Several public meetings have been scheduled to explain the needs driving the referendum. The first was held Tuesday.

The remaining four are:

Monday, March 13, 11 a.m. to noon at  West Milwaukee Intermediate School, 5104 W. Greenfield Ave.

Thursday, March 16, 6 to 7 p.m., Lane Intermediate School, 1300 S. 109th St., auxiliary gym

Saturday, March 25,  9:30 to 10:30 a.m., West Allis Nathan Hale High School, 11601 W. Lincoln Ave.

Thursday, March 30, 6-7 p.m., West Allis Central High School, 8516 W. Lincoln Ave.

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