Operational referendum plans shelved

$2.6M surplus found in 2022-23 Shawano schools budget
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The Shawano School District is scrapping plans for an operational referendum that would have let it exceed levy limits for the next few years as Superintendent Kurt Krizan announced Sept. 15 that there is a $2.6 million surplus left from the 2022-23 budget.

The news was the polar opposite of what was revealed 18 months ago, when the district revealed in March 2022 that it was facing a $2.2 million deficit, and Randi Anderson, the previous superintendent who left in August 2022, recommended shuttering either Olga Brener Intermediate School or Shawano Community Middle School as part of a series of budget reductions to make the budget solvent, as the district’s student enrollment has been steadily declining for years.

Instead, the district cut 16 full-time positions and utilized one-time funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money received from the federal government. Local parents and community members came out in force to protest the potential closing of a school, so that idea was eliminated, but administrators considered the possibility of asking for an operational referendum next year that would allow the district to exceed the state-imposed levy limits for five years, if voters approved.

“When all was said and done, we presented a budget at the annual meeting last year with an estimated $150,000 deficit,” Krizan said. “We had budget reduction measures, we had unfilled staff positions, and then we also had an increase in state and federal funding, which helped to get to that budget surplus.”

The Shawano School Board will need to examine what to do with the surplus, and Krizan suggested that addressing deferred maintenance needs would be an option, as the surplus would be one-time money and not something the district could depend on annually. However, nothing is off the table at this point, he said.

Krizan said it would take some time to come up with ideas for the surplus, so the earliest it might be addressed is at the next board meeting Oct. 9.

The news of the surplus will not have a significant impact on the district’s pursuit of a capital referendum that could build a new middle school and upgrade the other three schools. The capital referendum is expected to be between $70 million and $110 million, depending on the results from a community survey to be distributed in October.

“We were presented with a situation where we were projecting — forecasting, actually — a deficit for multiple years,” Krizan said. “As a district, we tightened our belts and looked for ways that we could cut some expenses. We were making sure that we weren’t setting up for a deficit for the long term.”

Krizan said there was a possibility that the district might come back and ask voters for a referendum at a later date, as student enrollment is expected to continue to decline in the foreseeable future.

“I can only say that, for the next two years, we wouldn’t be looking at an operating referendum,” Krizan said. “However, with the uncertainty of the state budget every two years and how education is funded, it’s not something we can never say never on, but we can at least say we don’t need it at this point.”