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School board talks debt, mental health

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico school board heard plans, Monday, May 21, to establish an escrow account with the purpose of paying off bonds ahead of the due dates.

Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations, called the fund a “critical action step.”

“It’s part of our very intricate start on the finance, jigsaw-puzzle reality that we’ve been unpacking and working on for many months now,” Spets said.

The two bonds the district wants to pay off early are from 2016 and 2014.

The district levied these dollars into Fund 39, which is outside of the general revenue realm of school funding, said Michele Wiberg, senior vice president of PMA, the district’s financial advisor.

“Districts use this tool widely across the state to manage the overall levy so you don’t have a rollercoaster for your taxpayers,” Wiberg said of Fund 39.

The creation of an escrow account with the sole purpose of paying off these bonds has benefits for the district, she said.

“Essentially what we’re doing is taking the levied dollars that have already been protected and putting them into escrow account with interest,” Wiberg said.

The escrow account will place the funds in safe investments like U.S. Treasury bonds.

By formally accepting a resolution on June 11, the board will be able to pay off the 2016 bond early.

The end result is about $377,000 saved in interest costs, plus a substantial reduction in the district’s overall debt.

“I ask the board to be mindful to the commitment we made to taxpayers to maintain the levy rate at $9.19,” Spets said.

The board also heard a presentation about health and wellness programming.

“We’ve been looking at our own data, but also looking at where the trends are moving throughout the state,” said Mark Smith, assistant superintendent of learning. “Where the resources are rich and where the resources are depleted and ultimately what we need to do to build up the resources for the children of the Howard-Suamico School District.”

District staff has a three-tiered approach to curriculum and offerings to students who may be struggling with mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

The first tier is comprised of services and curriculum for all students. Items in this tier focus on building resiliency, making schools trauma sensitive, some training for all staff, and curriculum for fifth-, seventh- and ninth- graders on looking for signs of suicide in classmates.

“Just like we want our students to be physically healthy, we want them to come out of our schools emotionally and mentally healthy as well,” said Jennie Garceau, assistant director of pupil services.

Jerry Wieland

The second tier is for select students that may be struggling with mental health.

The things the district does in this tier involve positive behavior interventions and supports, like checking in with staff members periodically, mentoring programs, and individual or small-group work meetings with a counselor, social worker or school psychologist.

The third tier contains the smallest number of students and is for those with known mental illness issues.
Students in this tier might get referred to an outside agency for help. The district may also utilize existing partnerships it has with Prevea and Foundations that have outside counselors in HSSD schools.

“The gist of this is we can’t do it alone,” said Jerry Wieland, director of special education and pupil services. “For those students who need the most, it’s going to require a partnership with multiple agencies and a lot of resources to tackle that.”

When creating the report, district staff looked at data from the Youth Behavior Risk Survey in Wisconsin and a national Gallop poll.

In the future, the district plans to use data specifically from the district along with the other sources.

“Looking at those numbers I was very startled by that,” said Rachel Ceaglske, student representative to the board, about the survey results on anxiety. “It’s very concerning that it’s such a huge portion, and I would say I definitely noticed it in school… it’s just tough, there’s a lot of stress.”

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