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Board discusses possible referendum in detail

By Ben Rodgers

Staff Writer

SUAMICO – The Howard Suamico Board of Education discussed a new referendum attempt for next April’s elections at Monday’s Dec. 11 meeting.

The previous attempt came last April where 70 percent of voters rejected the district exceeding its revenue cap by $4 million annually with no limit to expire.

“Because of the new era in school finance, moving away from the integrity of the state funding formula as it was created, this is our time now,” said Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations. “Others have been there for a long time; others are coming behind us.”

Spets had a draft of the ballot question that included language allowing the district to exceed the revenue cap by $5,850,000 for five years beginning in 2018-19 for the purposes of staffing, employee compensation and maintenance.

“Is it an adequate amount to meaningfully address those categories that we put forth, that the task force put forth? Can you meaningfully address those?” asked Mark Ashley, board president.

Spets said the figure of $5.8 million would allow the district to get back to the baseline. With the previous failed referendum the district has had to make cuts and move dollars around to operate.

“Our baseline should be about $56 million a year,” Spets said. “Based on historical adjustments to the revenue limit, that is actually low. That’s how super, ultra fiscally conservative at Howard-Suamico we really are.”

Of the proposed $5.8 million, $2,831,000 would go to reducing class sizes.

For the 2017-18 school year the district has 17.06 students per teacher. This is above the most recent state average of 14.8 for the 2015-16 school year.

The district currently has 359 teachers and roughly 6,100 students.

With an operational referendum HSSD would like to increase teaching hires in phases, cumulating in 390 total teachers for the 2020-21 school year.

With a projected decrease in students down to 6,000, this would result in ratio of 15.39 students per teacher for 2020-21.

“It’s our best estimate right now, given where we find ourselves,” said Damian LaCroix, superintendent.

$1.2 million of the more than $5.8 million would go to teacher compensation.

Spets estimates 299 of the 359 teachers in the district are currently underpaid compared to other districts in the area.

At a previous meeting educators on a compensation task force were in favor of a new pay system to be implemented next year.

However, the average differential per teacher to the area average is $3,561.

Finally $1 million of the proposed referendum would go toward building maintenance.

The district has a 10 year maintenance plan created by an architectural firm that was completed in April of 2016.

From that it gleaned major areas of concern, which includes the roof at Bay View Middle School, the Bay Port High School heating system, and the air conditioning at Lineville Intermediate School and Meadowbrook Elementary School.

“Residents understand and have mentioned how much they appreciate that we maintain our buildings,” said Teresa Ford, board vice president. “So that’s another thing they can grasp and hold onto. It’s best to fix the roof, it’s best to fix it and not patch it. Most homeowners understand that I think.”

The district has roughly 1 million square feet of buildings to maintain, with the average age of schools in the district at just less than 40 years.

Previously it was discussed that the district looked at a seven year referendum, but Spets said five years is actually better and allows for more flexibility when working with budgets passed by the state.

“You plan the best you can and you base much of our plan on as many variables as you can control as possible,” Ashley said.

Still with this referendum being discussed educators are having to plan for the best and the worst for next school year.

“This is that messy space with leaders, there’s no question,” Spets said. “Everyone has to plan for two realities that are completely opposed to each other.”

The final draft of referendum will need to be approved at a special board meeting in January, where the amount and the duration of the referendum will be decided.

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