Strategy 2035 calls for referendum in Howard-Suamico
By Ben Rodgers
HOWARD – A different venue for the Monday, Oct. 7, school board meeting helped showcase the future of education and how the Howard-Suamico School District plans to get there.
Held at the Innovation Studio at Bay View Middle School, board members learned of a road map to equip all students with opportunities for learning in a changing landscape.
The catch is that it will take a new referendum to get to the destination.
“What we’re trying to do is anticipate a changing future in a hyper dynamic environment that seems more unpredictable now than ever,” said Damian LaCroix, superintendent.
Dubbed Strategy 2035, the plan calls for referendum dollars to continue gains made from the last referendum and expand educational opportunities for students.
“By April 2021, the Howard-Suamico School District needs to confirm continuation of revenue from the April 2018 operational referendum, or plan for the possibility of staffing and/or program reductions,” said Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations.
Spets said the cost to maintain the student-teacher ratio achieved by the April 2018 referendum is $2.4 million annually.
He said continuation of ensuring Howard-Suamico teachers are properly compensated in comparison to other area districts is $1 million annually.
Spets said the continuation of facilities maintenance is also $1 million annually.
Strategy 2035 also includes $1 million for yet-to-be-determined programs that aim to prepare this class of kindergarten students for what 2035 will look like.
“Part of Strategy 2035 is to be able to have spaces like this across the district for all learners,” Spets said in the Innovation Studio. “From an equity standpoint, to do what is right for all our kids.”
Students at Bay View are already getting a leg up when it comes to new technologies, said Travis Jiskra, instructional technology coordinator.
“We have 3D printers sitting here, we have robots, we have a lot of different gadgets,” Jiskra said. “We have to provide kids with these experiences that they’re going to experience in the real world.”
By 2021, the district is projected to operate with 4 percent of its allowable debt, Spets said.
He said the estimate for the end of the 2020-21 school year is an allowable debt limit of $340 million, and he projects the district to have only $14 million in debt.
An April 2021 referendum scenario Spets presented calls for a five-year, $4-million levy override coupled with an additional $105 million in facilities debt.
“From a financial perspective through PMA, our financial advising firm, we could ask for a little bit less on the operational amount and take on about $105 million in debt,” Spets said.
Spets also put out a call for the community to consider a 30-cent mill rate increase for a total of $9.49 per $1,000 of equalized value.
“To ensure equity, we need fiscal flexibility,” Spets said. “Please begin to consider moving to a $9.49 levy rate; one that provides adequate resources to prepare the next generation of our children to achieve.”
The district has held the property tax rate at $9.19 for the past four years.
Spets previously said the district aims to keep the tax rate the same for the fifth year when the 2019-20 budget is finalized on Oct. 21.
For the 2016-17 school year, the district had a tax levy of $23.2 million. It has increased each year since and is projected to reach $27.2 million this year, but won’t be finalized until Oct. 21.
More information on the proposed referendum will also be presented at that meeting.
A 2018 task force recommended to the school board that the community would accept any levy rate increase up to 31 cents.
“Really what we’re talking about is a bigger chance for a bigger change and a bigger transformation,” Spets said.