Referendum engagement plans outlined for Howard-Suamico
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico School District outlined plans to engage the community for its next possible referendum question dubbed Strategy 2035 at the Monday, Dec. 9, school board meeting.
“We’d like to propose some additional engagement, specifically focused on what the community is thinking about what the board has been discussing for the past six months,” said Brian Nicol, district director of communications. “But we want to be able to gather information.”
To that extent, Nicol presented the board with a high-level overview of what the district plans to do for the remainder of the school year to engage residents.
In January, the board will receive an updated plan with more specific details.
Staff/student meetings will take place from the end of January through February.
“Students should, as we’ve demonstrated here through some of our monitoring reports, have a say in the environment they’re going to learn in,” Nicol said.
February will end with a report to the community.
A revamped district website is expected to launch in March, and after it does, the district will engage in meetings with community members.
The spring newsletter will be sent out in April, and following its publication, the district will engage in a community survey to gauge referendum support.
The board will then be updated with information collected from the survey and engagements in May.
“The board and the administration team have a deeper level of understanding, and we now need to go out and push that level of understanding to other audiences and see what they will push back on,” Nicol said.
He also touted the services of ThoughtExchange, an online tool based on artificial intelligence which aggregates a large amount of online input to better understand trends and underlining thoughts.
Nicol said ThoughtExchange will filter common threads of agreement through the noise of online communication.
“I right away was impressed with the reps of the company, the brand and how sophisticated of a possible partner they seemed to be,” said Matt Spets, superintendent of operations.
A possible referendum question has not been solidified yet, but at the Oct. 21 school board meeting Spets outlined three of many possible scenarios.
One of the main goals of the referendum is to allow the district to continue to meet goals it is currently making in regards to student/teacher ratio or class sizes, employee compensation and facilities maintenance, he said.
The referendum could also include an additional $1 million per year to fund a project that has yet to be decided.
If asked, in April 2021, the referendum would renew the operational referendum passed in 2018 and not go into effect into 2023.
The first of the scenarios is a $5.4 million levy override coupled with a 30-cent tax rate increase. This would allow the district to take on $123 million in facilities debt.
The second is a $5.4 million recurring levy override with no tax rate increase. This would allow the district to take on $99 million in facilities debt.
The final scenario is a $4.9 million recurring levy override with a 30-cent tax rate increase. This would allow the district to take on $123 million in facilities debt.
At the start of the meeting, district resident Fred Stieg complimented the district for keeping the tax rate of $9.19 per $1,000 of home value constant for the last four years and next year.
“In two years the value of my home has jumped $47,000,” Stieg said. “You have been great stewards of the taxpayer dollar. You are keeping your levy at the same amount.”
The total property valuation grew in the district by 6.32 percent for a total of $3,073,797,118, Spets said.
An emeritus board member of the Howard-Suamico Education Foundation, Steig said frustration will be coming from the general public with the recently sent out tax bills, because many may not understand the increase in taxes paid is due to the increase in property values.
“I know the tax bills are going to be coming out and you’re going to get swamped, and you’re going to get a whole lot of questions and people are going to be angry,” he said. “But remember, there’s people in the community who understand how all of this works.”
In October, the board approved a tax levy of $28.24 million – an increase from the 2018-19 tax levy of $26.57 million – which supports a district budget of $87.4 million for the 2019-20 school year, a decrease from last year’s budget of $89.35 million.