The Racine Unified School District saved over $10 million this year by overestimating its healthcare spending. Whether or not a redistricting plan goes into effect next year could hinge on how that money is used.
Dave Hazen, chief financial officer for Unified, told board members and an audience of about 100 residents at the Board of Education meeting on Thursday that the savings could be higher, but he’s being conservative. He proposes putting that money into a healthcare stabilization fund administered by the Board of Adjustment committee that can be used to stabilize future budgets when and/or if needed.
The Board of Adjustment includes members from the district and the Racine Educators Association. The group is addressing issues related to health and dental benefits.
“If we maintain our spend, but put the money we’re saving now into this special fund, it will help solve our budget problems,” he said.
Hazen said the district budgeted for $42 million in healthcare spending, but the numbers he's seeing are actually much lower.
Then the Board of Adjustment could work on wellness and long-term health strategies to reduce the overall need, Hazen said.
In short, Hazen thinks that by combining the redistricting plan with the healthcare stabilization fund, the district will bridge a projected $6.5 million budget gap for the 2012-2013 school year.
The redistricting plan - which is vehemently opposed by the families, faculty and staff at both and schools - targets those buildings for closing. Most students would move to neighborhood schools if the Board votes Monday to approve the plan.
Dennis Wiser thinks the healthcare stabilization fund should be used to fully bridge the budget gap for next year so board members can have more time to make sure what they do is right.
“The timeline is terribly fast,” he said after the meeting was over. “We don’t have the best track record for long-range planning so I’m concerned. When I think about moving kids, parents changing their lives, reducing staff, I want to do it right. I’d rather take a year to think about it so a year from now we aren’t going through this again.”
Pastor Melvin Hargrove, also a board member, said he thinks it’s prudent for the board to vote on Monday.
“Dave (Hazen), Pat (Duff), and Dr. Laing have done due diligence and we’ve gotten a lot of information over the last couple of months, so I do think we should vote on Monday,” he said. “Unfortunately, anything we do will disrupt lives, and I pray we can move things forward.”
But Julie McKenna, even as she agreed more with Wiser, seemed to side with Hargrove based on her experience with redistricting plans in the past.
“We do need more time to reflect because while we have one piece in place, we need all the pieces,” she said. “But I’m afraid if we wait any longer, we’ll just keep pushing decisions further down the road.”
Still, she said she voted against school closings before and said the projected savings may not measure up, which has also been part of her past experience on the board.