By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – It’s official. There will be a ballot question on April 3 for residents of Howard and Suamico asking for an operational referendum.
The Howard-Suamico Board of Education unanimously approved a ballot question at the Jan. 8 meeting.
On Jan. 9 Mark Ashley, board president and Damian LaCroix, superintendent held a press conference to address the media.
“We have a solution the community can support with confidence,” LaCroix said at the press conference.
The referendum will be for 5 years, and to exceed the revenue cap by $5.85 mill per year. It also will have a neutral property tax impact of $0 per $100,000 of home value.
The neutral impact is due to the growth of property value in the district and the district’s efforts to pay down debt.
The referendum will not impact property taxes, which will stay at $9.19 per $1,000 of property value, the same rate it’s been at for the past three years.
The rate is currently well below the most recent figures for the state average of $9.97 for 2016-17.
This will be the second referendum voters in Howard and Suamico will see on the ballot in as many years, as last April voters soundly rejected a referendum to exceed the revenue cap by $4 million annually, with no limit to expire.
The previous referendum attempt would have raised property taxes for homeowners in the district.
“We presented a solution that the community didn’t support,”LaCroix said on Jan. 8. “That has motivated me to respond in a positive, respectful way.”
At the stated meeting LaCroix mentioned how the board and a 20-member community task force examined the problem for the past 9 months. A community survey was distributed, and the district even hired an outside consultant for help.
“This board had a desire and a heart to hear the community in a way that would allow us to honor both our students but also our taxpayers,” Ashley said on Jan. 9.
According to board vice president Teresa Ford, people she spoke to were most concerned with the referendum being open ended.
Community surveys indicated the same result.
“Ultimately you can have the best process in the world, but if it doesn’t give you the outcome that you’re looking for, that’s disappointing,” LaCroix said on Jan. 8.
If approved in April the referendum will address three main needs, reduced class sizes, increasing the district’s competitiveness for teacher compensation and facilities upgrades.
By exceeding the state-imposed revenue cap the district will be able to add 30 teaching positions over a two-year period.
It will also close a gap in teacher compensation between HSSD and other neighboring districts.
Finally, it will allow the district to meet maintenance needs in accordance with a master plan and two years of deferred facilities funding.
“It’s a win, win, win,” LaCroix said. “It’s a win for the district, it’s a win for the community, it’s a win for the taxpayer and it’s a win for our staff and our kids providing them with the resources they need.”
The complete ballot language is listed below:
“Shall the Howard-Suamico School District, Brown County, Wisconsin be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section l2l.9I, Wisconsin Statutes, for a duration of five years beginning with the 2018-2019 school year and ending with the 2022-2023 school year by an
amount of $5,850,000 each year for non-recurring purposes consisting of reducing class sizes, employee compensation, and facility maintenance?”
LaCroix said the past year was challenging but that he takes the blame for the failed attempt last April.
“We’ve done more with less,” he said. “What we haven’t done a great job in doing, and I take responsibility and blame for this, is telling people our needs.”
As a result HSSD cut 14 positions to help close the budget deficit created by the failure last April.
On tap for the district will be more community education events telling voters about the importance of the referendum.
“It’s all hands-on deck,” LaCroix said. “Let’s do this between now and April 3, and all the trying in the end doesn’t mean anything to me or to you unless we get the outcome we’re looking for. It’s about doing it.”
More information can be found at hssd.k12.wi.us/referendum.