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HSSD hears from task force on referendum

By Ben Rodgers
Staff Writer

SUAMICO – The HSSD Board of Education heard recommendations from a community task force on how to proceed with a referendum in the near future.

The task force was formed on the heels of a proposed referendum in April where 70 percent of voters rejected the district exceeding its revenue cap by $4 million annually with no limit to expire.

The task force recommended proceeding with a referendum but had the following suggestions:

• Present a referendum that is non-recurring and would come up again for election in 5 to 7 years.

• Ensure funding for student/education services, class size, teacher competitiveness, and maintenance.

• Ensure clear communication to promote understanding of needs.

• Foster trust through financial transparency.

• Educate the community on the basics of school finance.

“This referendum and the various actions that surround it are really a great opportunity for you as a school board,” said Tami Quiram, task force co-chair. “Yes the referendum, but also when you pursue this referendum it’s an opportunity to rebuild trust in the community.”

Quiram said the biggest thing the task force found was the need for clear and open communication regarding the finances in the district.

“I think the district is challenged because they have to provide answers that are technically accurate and that’s where the complexity comes in, round out the edges to explain it in a way that is simpler,” she said.

For example, total enrollment plays a large part in determining student aid. But the district has five different ways of determining that enrollment. That bogs down the communication process when trying to appeal to voters.

“The challenge we saw was how to do you break down the detail to the point where it’s easy for everybody in the community to understand, because it’s a very complicated equation,” said Jeremy Kopke, task force member.

One suggestion he had was the creation of a Q&A which has the big issues outlined in an easier to understand method followed by a more in-depth explanation.

Education of school finance was also brought up, as people may equate what the district already has and assume it has money readily available.

Two examples were the football field, which was paid for largely in part due to a grant, and the district building which was budgeted for with a buildings and grounds budget account.

“This building was a surprise, the fact that it happened was a bit of surprise and that feels a bit disconnected,” Quiram said. “If we can afford an administration building why do we have classes size they way they are? The community doesn’t have context.”

At the meeting one parent expressed her concern with growing class sizes and said something needs to be done.

Lynn LaBar has a daughter at Bay Port High School and a son at Bay View Middle School.

She said her son has multiple classes with 30 students, the highest being math with 35 students.

“I know and I know all you know, it promotes student learning, growth, and teacher retention,” LaBar said of small class sizes. “Instead of bringing all of that in I come to you to speak to you from the heart, from a parent, from all parents, we need to get that word out.”

The board will take the task force’s recommendations and discuss them at a future meeting.

Donovan Group was hired by the HSSD for consultation, survey deployment and analysis, task force facilitation, and other strategic communications support functions beginning in April 2017 and will continue through a potential referendum date of April 2018.

A $10,000 fee for services was paid from 2016-17 fiscal year-end funds out of the district budget for communications.

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