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School officials not interested in consolidation if study costs district money

Survey showed residents want to explore merger of Nicolet-area districts

April 26, 2011

Glendale — Although a decision has not been made, members of the Glendale-River Hills School Board last week said they likely would not be interested in participating in a consolidation study with Nicolet High School and fellow K-8 feeder districts Fox Point-Bayside and Maple Dale-Indian Hill if monetary contributions had to be made.

Current budgetary constraints were cited as a reason. Glendale-River Hills administrators are contemplating where to trim $325,000 to $415,000 in the 2011-12 budget.

"I think we should politely decline," School Board President Bob Roska said last week as he and fellow elected officials discussed the issue at a meeting. "We just got done talking about money we don't have and cuts we're going to have to make. I don't know when the right time is, but now doesn't seem like a good time."

Consolidation - a long-running buzzword in the Nicolet area - bubbled to the surface once again in January after results came in from a survey sent to households in Bayside, Fox Point, Glendale and River Hills. The month prior, Nicolet contracted with consulting firm School Perceptions to administer the survey. It included a question about consolidation.

Nearly 80 percent of the more than 1,100 respondents favored exploring consolidation if long-term cost savings could be realized.

In the aftermath of the results, the Nicolet School Board earlier this year voted to discuss the prospect of a consolidation study through a shared services committee that was formed more than five years ago during the most recent round of consolidation talks. Since 2005, officials within all four districts have been meeting as part of the committee to discuss possible efficiencies.

Full review could cost $90,000

One of the apparent sticking points in moving forward with the study is the price tag. A cursory financial review by an expert firm would likely cost about $10,000, while a full-spectrum study could run between $75,000 and $90,000.

Officials from the Fox Point-Bayside and Maple Dale-Indian Hill districts have recently declined Nicolet's request for similar reasons. Fox Point-Bayside is facing a budget shortfall in 2010-11, while Maple Dale-Indian Hill is anticipating a modest surplus, thanks to an infusion of referendum dollars from several years ago.

Glendale-River Hills board member Bryan Kennedy said districts in Wisconsin have historically consolidated only when they have been on the verge of bankruptcy. None of the Nicolet districts are in such a situation at the moment, due in part to referendums passed within the past several years in all four districts.

"We are a state that embraces local control," Kennedy said. "We like to have close contact with our elected officials."

Most have downsized

Jim Beckmann, director of operations for the Glendale-River Hills and Maple Dale-Indian Hill districts, said each of the feeders have already made consolidations within their boundaries to respond to changing times.

Fox Point-Bayside closed its Dunwood facility and rents it out to a variety of community organizations. Glendale-River Hills did a similar maneuver less than a decade ago with the closing of its Good Hope facility. While Maple Dale-Indian Hill maintains some classes at its Indian Hill facility, a portion of it is leased to outside organizations.

"All of these buildings are still in use, and the districts are collecting rent," Beckmann said.

Although none of the three feeders has agreed to pony up funds, administrators in all four districts will continue to discuss studying consolidation at shared services meetings. The next one has been scheduled in May.

Consolidation studies were previously performed in 1976, 1985 and 2000. None of those studies conclusively determined long-term savings would be achieved if all four districts consolidated. Advocates more recently have pushed for another study, pointing to dwindling funding from the state and declining enrollment.

A fourth attempt at a study - in 2004 - was discussed, but did not move forward. Instead, the periodic shared services committee was formed.

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