Riverside-Brookfield High School Superintendent Kevin Skinkis began making the rounds to the institution’s grade-school feeder districts last week, part of a campaign to spread awareness of the financial issues facing the district and enable the community to share in the process of making some hard choices in the short term.

Skinkis laid it out plainly to residents who came to his presentations at Gross Middle School in Brookfield and Hauser Junior High in Riverside. The goal is to make $1.8 million in cuts for the 2012-13 school year.

With no referendum proposal on the table for the spring, those cuts are going to be real. Among the options floated were reducing the number of credits needed for graduation, limiting the number of classes a student can take, eliminating some sports, hiking building rental fees and closing the building campus on Fridays during the summer.

While there are some within District 208 who would like to see this happen, we’re not among them. Making cuts to graduation requirements, limiting class options for students, cutting sports. Some might be fine with that. Frills, they might say.

The truth for anyone who has a kid at RBHS is that those kinds of cuts hurt.

For 2012-13, however, it appears that that is going to be the reality. The crucial part is making sure that pain is limited as much as possible. Students and families in District 208 deserve access to a top-notch district. The key, of course, is how to afford that.

The answer is going to come from a willingness from both taxpayers and the district staff to give a little. In the face of an overwhelming defeat to a tax referendum last spring, the district has to face a reality. Taxpayers feel overburdened. This is no surprise given the nation’s economic situation of the past four years. They are likely to feel overburdened in the next year or two as well.

This is why it becomes crucial for those who work and teach at RBHS to realize that if there is to be broad consensus that a referendum is vital for the future excellence of the district, there is going to have to be a fundamental change in the way contracts are approached.

The key is for all raises in salary to be tied not to outdated and unsustainable practices, but to reality. Step raises have to be on the table as a concession. Base pay raises need to be tied to the tax-cap limits imposed by the state.

As for pensions, district taxpayers need to understand that those are outside of local control. Those changes have to come at the state level. Making an example out of local teachers and district staff over that state issue gets us nowhere.

Do pension rules need to be overhauled? Absolutely, but that discussion has to be had parallel to the local funding issue.

For us, it’s that simple. Unsustainable spending habits have to give way. If taxpayers want excellent schools, it’s going to take some sort of eventual tax hike to stabilize the current budget imbalance.

But the sense that this is being done in partnership is critical.