SHAWANO, Wis. (WFRV)- Some parents, teachers, and students are upset with how Shawano School District has approached resolving a $2 million budget deficit. 

To have their voices heard, a group of about fifty people marched about a mile through downtown Shawano waving signs and chanting in support of the district’s teachers and staff.

“The goal was to send out a positive message of support and love to our teachers and staff,” said Sheila Aumann who is a parent in the district who said she was upset by how the district is choosing to resolve its budget deficit.

Last month, the school district gave nine staff members preliminary non-renewal notices and chose to not replace 11 other staff members who will be retiring. This amounts to about $1.5 million in savings.

District Finance Director Josh Swanson said the district had to make the decision because of declining enrollment.

“It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t easy but we needed to take a look at our staffing and right-sizing the district,” said Swanson.

Swanson noted that declining enrollment is something that school districts across the state are dealing with.

According to a document obtained by Local 5, Shawano expects to have about 35 fewer students next school year compared to this one. They said they will cut ten classes to compensate and the average class size district-wide will go up by about two students.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, public school enrollment statewide declined by half a percent between 2020 and 2021. Between 2019 and 2020 enrollment declined by three percent.

Census data indicates that Shawano’s population has decreased by about 60 people between 2010 and 2020.

Swanson said the district didn’t want to make cuts during the worst days of the pandemic so that’s why they waited until this school year.

A Shawano School Board member told Local 5 that over 20 teachers in the district have retired or resigned this school year. Shawano School District students at the march on Saturday said losing all these teachers to budget cuts and not knowing which one of their teachers may be next has been tough on them.

“I don’t believe that I could have made it nearly as far if I didn’t have the support of all of my teachers,” said senior Ashlee Raddant.

“We’ve been left in the dark for so many things,” said junior Grace Stuewer. “And now it feels like we have a little bit of power and control.”

District Finance Director Josh Swanson said that the district is looking at three additional methods to erase the budget deficit. The first is cutting additional staff, the second is cutting programming, and the third is closing one of their schools.

Swanson said the district has tabled the idea of closing a school after hearing feedback from a Shawano community that largely opposed the move.

I don’t understand why the first thing on the chopping block is closing a school, cutting programs, or cutting teachers when you can see the spending at central office,” said Aumann.

A record request of school district spending revealed the total salary paid to those in the central office is 35 percent higher now than it was four years ago before the current superintendent, Randi Anderson, came to the district.

The document was created using a information received by a former employee through a freedom of information request.

The district also created two new positions in the central office.

Local 5 showed these numbers to Swanson who acknowledged that central office staff as a whole is getting paid more than four years ago but said the increase is more like 18 percent than 35 percent. It isn’t clear if Swanson helped to put together the original numbers that were provided in the document.

He said the fringe benefits numbers provided assumed that the person holding the position received the same amount as their predecessor which isn’t always the case. He also noted that contractor expenses listed in the original document were inaccurate.

The former employee who filed the records request said fringe benefit numbers were not provided in their entirety as requested, leaving the 2021-2022 fiscal year to require previous years’ figures to be used to calculate the current year.

Local 5 asked Swanson why the district was cutting teachers while those in the central office had seen salary raises.

“We looked at everything and all cuts are not final so we are still looking at all things across the board, not just administration but also staff,” said Swanson.

The Shawano School District has experienced turnover since superintendent Randi Anderson took over three years ago.

In that time, they’ve gone through three different business managers, the direction of instructions (position title has changed), and human resource managers. Some of this turnover was due to resignation.

Parents at the march through downtown Shawano said they wish the school board and district administration were more receptive to community input.

“I can speak on the parent’s side I haven’t felt heard,” said Aumann.

“Give us your voice and opinions and every idea, we know that budget cuts are not popular they aren’t fun nobody enjoys this time,” said Swanson.

Local 5 reached out to superintendent Randi Anderson via phone call and email. She deferred our questions to Swanson who was able to answer most of our questions.

We also asked the district for information on how many people in the central office have resigned in the last three years and didn’t hear back.