By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – Two school referendums will be on the April 7 ballot for district voters to consider.
The Ashwaubenon school board voted unanimously Wednesday, Dec. 11, to seek voter approval of an operational referendum to exceed the district’s revenue limit by $730,000 annually, starting with the 2020-21 school year and ending in 2024-25.
Also approved was a capital referendum question for issuing up to $10.05 million in general obligation bonds to pay for a district-wide facility improvement program.
Keith Lucius, the district’s business director, said the wording of the operational referendum specifies the funds obtained from a revenue override could only be used for non-recurring purposes consisting of expenses associated with providing student mental health services and utility expenses associated with operating heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
Lucius said wording related to “other operational expenses” in a draft of the operational referendum was taken out to make clear for what the money would be used.
“The $730,000 we’re asking for can only be used for student mental wellness services and for operating the HVAC system, and that’s it,” he said. “We took out… other expenses, because we heard concerns from people that that looks like we’re trying to get freedom to do whatever we want, and we want to be very clear that’s not the intention.”
Lucius said the district worked with a law firm to write the referendums.
“There’s a lot of legalese in this, because we’ve got to follow state statute and allow us to exceed the revenue limit, which is in state statutes as well,” he said. “That’s why it sounds a little longwinded, rather than just saying briefly what a normal person would say we want to do.”
Lucius said the district would monitor what is being done with the money obtained from the operational referendum.
Based on the board members’ discussions with district staff and public information meetings leading up to the board deciding to go ahead with the referendums next April, $650,000 of the operational referendum would be designated for student mental health services and the other $80,000 to operate air conditioning that would be added throughout the high school and Pioneer and Valley View elementary schools as part of the capital referendum.
The estimates the district obtained for various facility improvement projects for the capital referendum put the price tag of the additional air conditioning at $4.35 million of the $10.05 million total.
In the event the operational referendum passes but not the capital referendum, thereby resulting in additional air conditioning not being approved but there being money authorized to pay for operating it, the board went on record it would only levy $650,000 annually in overriding the district’s revenue limit to pay for student mental health services and not the additional $80,000.
“It’s important for us to make that clear to our community that that’s our intention,” Lucius said.
Though the operational referendum would be for five years, the board could later decide to hold another referendum in subsequent years to continue or adjust the amount of a revenue cap override to take effect after the 2024-25 school year.
Lucius said the effectiveness of the operational referendum could be reviewed by the board around the fourth year it would be in place to determine what amount to include in a subsequent referendum.
Capital referendum projects
Along with the added air conditioning, the capital referendum calls for: safety and security improvements; facility and building infrastructure updates and site improvements; and the acquisition of furnishings, fixtures and equipment.
Estimates obtained by the district place the cost of improving school security at Cormier and Pioneer Elementary School at $3.9 million.
The district’s estimate is $1.8 million for updating the facilities to remove asbestos, repair the Pioneer gym foundation, repair the track, replace three gym floors, replace lighting in the gyms and the Parkview Middle School library and replace windows and doors at Parkview.
Tax rate impact
Estimates the district released for the impact the referendums would have on the tax rate project the operational referendum would increase the mill rate by 55 cents per $1,000 above the current property tax level for each of the next five years.
The capital referendum would increase the mill rate by 10 cents per $1,000 above the current property tax level while the bonds are being paid off.
Though paying back the debt on the capital referendum could be spread out over 20 years, Lucius said the repayment period will depend on factors such as the interest rates on the bonds, for which lower rates could reduce the period to pay off the debt with callable bonds paid off earlier.
In the event bids for the planned facility improvement projects would total less than the capital referendum, Lucius said the amount under $10.05 million would be placed in a fund for paying off the referendum debt and could not be spent outside the scope of the referendum.
If the bids would exceed $10.05 million, he said projects could be scaled backed or adjusted, because the district would not be authorized to borrow beyond the capital referendum amount.
Lucius said the district is “pretty confident” with the estimates it has received for the facility improvement projects.
Prior to the referendums going before district voters, two public information sessions have been scheduled – 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, in the Pioneer gym and 6 p.m. Monday, March 9, in the Cormier gym.