Wisconsin News

Why La Crosse School District faces millions in cuts; Onalaska does not

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- While students enjoy their final month of freedom before they hit the books once again, school districts are putting the finishing touches on their plans for the year.

When News 8 asked local school districts about their budget concerns around this time last year, we heard one answer over and over again. Superintendents said last year that they were on solid ground, but this coming school year would be rough. So News 8 checked back in with them to see whether that turned out to be true.

The answer depends on who you ask. While the La Crosse School District is struggling with millions of dollars in budget cuts, Onalaska is not.

The La Crosse School District faced a budget dilemma this year: How does it keep class sizes from ballooning and avoid slashing programs when millions of dollars in cuts are staring them in the face?

"Yeah, we took quite a hit this year -- over $4 million in budget cuts that had to be realized coming into the '12-13 school year," said La Crosse School District Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Steve Salerno.

The cuts are a result of reductions in state aid.

Adjustments to employee health insurance required by Gov. Scott Walker's reforms brought the district about $1.5 million in savings, but that wasn't enough.


This year, high school teachers are being asked to teach six out of eight class periods each day instead of five out of eight.

Plus, the district had to cut what amounts to six full-time positions. The layoffs saved half a million dollars, but it wasn't an easy decision to make.

"Oh, it's devastating. I mean, you think you've done so much to attract these people, bring them into our district. You develop them into the La Crosse way of doing business. And then a year, two years later, you have to say, 'I'm sorry, there's just not enough money in the budget.' It's absolutely devastating. It's like giving up a family member," said Salerno.

Four of the La Crosse staff members laid off have been rehired to fill job vacancies left open by retirements.

But while La Crosse had to cut back its staff, the Onalaska School District actually added on a few.

Onalaska Superintendent Fran Finco said the district isn't facing the budget cuts La Crosse is dealing with.

But why? It's a combination of multiple factors, but there are two big ones.

"We are fortunate to be a district where we get more open enrollment students in than out. And so last year, there was an additional $400,000-and-some that we got from students coming into the district," said Finco.

The second reason Onalaska isn't in the red is because two years ago, local taxpayers voted to raise their property taxes by more than $4 million over the course of three years.

"The referendum was huge. For the community to come together two Februarys ago and say, 'OK, we know it's going to cost us more in terms of our property taxes, but ... we don't want to see our schools devastated, our programs devastated,'" said Finco.

The referendum keeps Onalaska schools covered this school year and next year, too. But after that, they're either going to have to have another referendum or find some other major source of revenue.

Top Videos

Latest News

This Week's Circulars