By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – It was a meeting filled with optimism for the future Monday, April 9, for the Howard-Suamico school board.
The jubilation comes on the heels of the voters passing a referendum to allow the district to exceed the revenue cap by $5.85 million a year for five years to address concerns in the district.
“I wish the community could fully realize this, the confidence that I have in the administration, in principals, and educators where these resources are going,” said Mark Ashley, board president.
The resources will address three areas, classroom size, teacher compensation and facilities maintenance.
“I have unending confidence and respect for the integrity and the capability of those who are going to manage those dollars,” Ashley said.
District staff already posted 22 job openings on April 5 to address classroom size.
The addition of new teachers will be the largest allocation of referendum funds, costing roughly $2.3 million a year.
“Make no mistake about it, we have candidates that are going to be choosing us just like we are choosing them,” said Mark Smith, assistant superintendent of organizational development.
Smith said the district will make offers and have contracts ready for the new hires by the week of May 21.
“It’s a pretty aggressive, but a very attainable timeline,” Smith said. “We feel like we’re going into the marketplace at the right time.”
The plans for teacher compensation were also rolled out on Monday, with $1.2 million per year going to address the pay gap the district faces.
“This presents the most substantial investment in teacher pay in the history of the district, by average and total comp,” said Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations.
For the 2018-19 school year, Spets said 201 teachers will be level set, or made more equal, compared to other districts in regards to pay scale.
In addition to the 201 teachers that will be made level set, all teachers will receive a pay rise of about 2.77 percent, which will bring the new effective salary range to $40,000 to $78,720.
The district will mail teachers new salary offers and contracts around May 15.
“We’re taking action to support our current staff as soon as possible,” Spets said.
Finally, $1 million per year will now to go facilities maintenance.
Items in the 10-year facilities plan that were scheduled for five or six years from now will be moved up.
Plus, anything that relates to school safety will automatically move to the front of the list.
The state also recently passed a $100 million school safety measure.
Spets said the district applied for those funds as well.
He said there will also be an opportunity for the public to join a group that looks at facilities needs in the future to keep everyone informed.
“We have a plan,” Spets said. “I’m excited, just thankful to be in this position and that we live in this community.”
Brian Nicol, communications and development coordinator, said the turnout for the election was virtually identical to last year, which was impressive given the snow that hampered Election Day this year.
Nicol said early numbers show that of those who voted, more than 58 percent changed from a “no” vote last year to a “yes” vote this year.
“At this point what’s most evident was the work of the board and the work of the community changed a lot of ‘no’ voters into ‘yes’ voters,” Nicol said.
Superintendent Damien LaCroix compared getting the results on election night to being in a “war room.”
He said there was pacing and praying and ultimately celebrating.
He also said the district still has ground to cover in order to ensure the best possible educational opportunities for students.
“This allows us to take a significant step in closing the gap and getting to average, and I don’t say that out of any kind of lack of appreciation,” LaCroix said. “It’s an important step and I’m just presenting the facts here.”
At the start of the meeting the Referendum Citizen Action Committee was recognized for their volunteer work.
Multiple members who attended stated last year they fought against the failed referendum.
“One word comes to my mind is trust and I think community trust was gained this time around and my charge back to the board would really be continue that trust and continue to build on that trust,” said Dan Roddan, a committee member who voted “no” the prior year.
Later in the meeting board member Gary Sievert echoed those concerns.
“We must tell our citizens where this money is going,” Sievert said. “I appreciate you’re up and running with plans, facilities and hiring. We must pass that information on, either through press releases or memos we run.”
The April 9 meeting also marked the final meeting for board member Lisa Botsford, who decided not to run again after serving for 12 years.
“It was challenging at times, but through great leadership and a great board to work with, and 12 years later here I am,” Botsford said. “I just want to thank you all. Thanks for your work and I’ll continue to help in any capacity, just ask.”