West Bend High School forensic teams complain about budget cuts but they really overspent allotted amount

January 15, 2020 – West Bend, WI – During the Jan. 6, 2020 meeting of the West Bend School Board students packed the board room.  High school students and parents spoke about funds being cut for clubs like forensics and debate and the school music program was even mentioned.

When students in attendance were asked where the information about funding cuts came from, none could answer.

At the meeting students and parents spoke about the “importance of band, the cost of transportation to events and registration not being covered.”

“I don’t know why the arts don’t get funded like sports teams do. We have football fields, a brand-new tennis court that got resurfaced… The kids in the arts… are a team as well. They are a club as well. They need to be recognized. They need to be funded.”

“I want to know how the budget is put together and how can that budget be changed in the middle of the school year.”

Emily Colton – “I’m here to address the recent defunding of the East forensics program… Who can reverse this decision.”

After the public speaking portion of the meeting Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said, “I don’t believe the board and or the district cut any funding for co-curricular programs.”

Following the meeting Kirkegaard asked for a hold on any story until he could look into it further.

Superintendent Kirkegaard spoke this week about what they found.

Kirkegaard – “There were no cuts at all to any of the forensics or music budget. There was no cut at all to the budget but last year between East and West they overspent by about $5,000 between the two. The cut was actually based on not actually having the ability to spend as much this year as they did last year and that had nothing to do with the approved budget.”

Kirkegaard – “I just visited with both principals and we are going to suggest or tell the advisers that we’re going to spend up to where we were last year and then this spring when we look at those funds we’ll then make the decision whether we will live within the budget or amend the budget to better reflect the expenses we have.”

Kirkegaard – “If they had overspent in the past and told they couldn’t overspend in the future then I can see where supervisors would think they don’t have as much to spend this year as they did last year but we truly have adjusted it making sure we’re not going to hold them specifically to that amount but we’re going to try to live within what we spent last year which was a little bit over what was budgeted for last year and now we need to make sure we budget appropriately or spend in accordance with the budget.”

District Finance Director Andy Sarnow– “Debate is a combined team but  there’s a forensics team for West Bend East and another for West. I’ve only heard about discussion with regard to forensics. I’ve heard of no further discussions for band; I don’t know where that came from. There have been discussions with the forensics coach. I’ll have to get back to you on the budget numbers. We are coming up with a document to share with the board.”

Sarnow – “In 2018-2019 and East and West forensics is separate and each has a budget of $6,700. The total for forensics is $13,400. Last year they overspent by about $4,950 within forensics. So just under $5,000. That was both teams together. Total they spent that year $18,500 and overspent just under $5,000.”

Sarnow – “Going over budget by 25% – 30% is significant. We don’t want to make a big deal about it because they do some wonderful stuff. Don Kirkegaard did reference they did spend $9,500 last year for transportation and that was a little more than previous years. We put a lot of things together and put it into one line item in our chart of accounts and I can’t say that account went over budget but they spent a little bit more so that was another couple thousand dollars that was more than anticipated.”

Sarnow – “The prior year they were within about $1,500; not a big concern but it does go back to the original message Mr. Graf shared is ‘boy, we just have to do a little bit better job living within our budget.’ There were no budgets that were abused, nothing like that it was just more of an effort to be proactive because we have a defined revenue limit. We can’t just ask taxpayers for more money and get it we’re just trying to be a little more sensitive to that.”

Sarnow – “By site the principals oversee their school allocations. My department, I work with them as well to take a look at things and are monitoring that regularly.”

WCI questioned if now the spending is being monitored or was it before?

Sarnow – “We have been, but in going back they had more activities that had been anticipated. They went a lot longer than I believe; they had activities from the end of September 2018 to the end of May 2019. So I think there were more activities; I don’t know if there were more students participating but I do know they went to more events.”

WCI – is it busing only or hotel stays or admission costs?

Sarnow – “It’s busing but travel; events further away where students are spending the night. Hotels, meals, and students are also contributing. Above the district allocation each school is also fundraising approximately $10,000 a year and spending about that so that’s additional money that’s spent on travel and coaches and going to these events.”

WCI – parents and students did speak for over 45 minutes at the board meeting about spending being cut.

Sarnow – “That’s not accurate.”

WCI – how did that get out there?

Sarnow – “I don’t know. There were discussions that dated to August but you should call WB East principal John Graf. (Calls have been placed to Graf with no response.)

WCI – The board then asked for more money to cover expenses. Where is that money coming from?

Sarnow – “Again, there were no budget reductions. We’re trying to get them to live within their budget. If we do need to get them a little additional money that’s equal to what they spent last year there is a little discretionary money the principals have and they could shift around and cover any overages. And that’s exactly what happened last year. At year end they had a little money left over so they were able to absorb the deficit within their budget.”

WCI – Should someone else get involved in overseeing how the money is spent so students don’t get rattled like this again?

Sarnow – “Myself, I don’t see any concerns or have any issues with the way we’ve been monitoring it. Are we going to pay a bit more closer attention, sure. But I don’t have any concerns from a financial perspective.”

WCI – How is the money being spent.

Sarnow – “I believe, based on coding and how we describe the expenditures we incur, it may indeed have included the one combined East and West debate team but primarily speaking this is mostly forensics.”

Sarnow did not know how or why band funding was brought into the discussion.

Calls have been placed to school board members for their response.

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