Oshkosh may close schools, combine sports teams if referendum fails

Oshkosh Schools
Oshkosh Schools

If voters do not approve a $28 million referendum in April, the Oshkosh Area School District says it will close a middle school, combine some North and West high school sports - including football - into one team, suspend teachers' raises and other measures to save money.

The district's 33-member budget reconciliation committee released the proposal this week. District leaders say it includes $3.4 million in cuts for the 2016-17 school year and $4 million in cuts for the 2017-18 school year.

The April 5 referendum asks voters to allow the school district to exceed state revenue limits by $4 million a year between the 2016-17 and 2022-23 school years. According to the district, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay an extra $83 per year in property taxes if the referendum is approved.

Oshkosh used the same approach for a similar amount two years ago and got voters to approve $28-million. Part of that was for upgrades to technology.

For the second time in three years, the Oshkosh school district will be asking voters for more money. Superintendent Stan Mack, told FOX 11 he doesn't want to, but has to.

"The devastating effects of the budget cuts we'd have to make would really destroy, within a one to two year period, the comprehensiveness of the school system," he told us.

According to Mack, the district is looking at an estimated $3.4 million dollar budget shortfall next year. He said without the referendum, a lot of deep cuts could be made, like:

Closing a middle school, which could save an estimate $350,000. The district says that building could be used for combining students from two of the current elementary schools. That could save $250,000.

Also, all middle school students could swap an elective for a study hall, saving $1.1 million.

A smaller, but noteworthy change would be combining the North and West High School football teams.

Mack told FOX 11 the district is handling its money properly, even spending well below most other districts in the area and state.

He said part of the problem is state funding is falling.

"With two years of zero increases and the previous two years of very small increases, simply have not kept up with inflation," he said.

On top of that, Mack said , Oshkosh was behind the eight ball when the state capped districts' revenue limits in 1993. He explained at that time Oshkosh was spending well below its neighboring districts.

But not everyone is on board. Jim LeClaire has a Facebook page asking people to vote no on the referendum. He did the same in 2014.

"The budget actually isn't completed until August. So to say that there's a budgetary shortfall, that's just a number they created," LeClaire told FOX 11.

LeClaire said the money is a want, not a need and that the district does not need to make drastic cuts.

"It's a little frustrating because they use these scare tactics to get people to vote yes for the referendum, but really if they voted no, the only thing that would happen is their taxes wouldn't go up," He said.

While other voters are on the fence.

"I think there are things that people could do to save money in others ways, but I think a referendum may be helpful," Julie Constantine told FOX 11.

Several parents we spoke with said they did not know enough about the referendum yet to comment.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the package of proposed cuts Wednesday. The district says it will hold meetings in March to try to persuade voters to vote to spend the money.

See the details of proposed cuts (mobile web users tap here):

FOX 11's Alex Ronallo is working on this story and will have a full report tonight on FOX 11 News and Nine and Ten.