By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – Details about two school referendums district voters will see on the spring general election ballot were presented Wednesday, Jan. 29, during an informational meeting in the Pioneer Elementary School gym.
The Ashwaubenon school board is seeking voter approval of an operational referendum to exceed the revenue limit by $730,000 annually for five years, starting with the 2020-21 school year and ending in 2024-25, and a capital referendum for issuing up to $10.05 million in general obligation bonds to pay for a district-wide facility improvement program.
Superintendent Kurt Weyers said a proposal to build a multi-use indoor facility at an estimated cost of $10.8 million is not included this year in the capital referendum.
Keith Lucius, business director, said 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.
Based on board discussions with staff and public information meetings leading up to the board deciding in December to go ahead with the Ashwaubenon school referendums, $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, the board has gone on record it would only levy $650,000 annually in overriding the district’s revenue limit to pay for student mental health services.
“If the capital referendum does not pass, we will not levy the $80,000 associated with the air conditioning,” Lucius said. “It won’t just roll into something else. We won’t use it. We will not levy it.”
However, if the capital referendum would pass and not the operational referendum, Lucius said it would be up to the board to determine whether to install added air conditioning, and if so, how to fund its operation.
“My recommendation would be to put in it, get it installed, and then we look at whether we can operate it out of our operating budget, or would we come to the community and say, ‘OK, let’s ask just the air conditioning question, since the community approved putting the air conditioning in,’” Lucius said. “On the surveys, that was a pretty strong support from the community – that need for air conditioning and improving that educational environment.”
Because the state limits school districts to two referendum questions per year, Lucius said a subsequent referendum couldn’t be held until 2021.
Operational referendum staffing
Tammy Nicholson, district pupil services director, said Ashwaubenon is currently providing a safe, supportive environment for students, but there’s more to be done.
“We have a team of counselors, social workers and other people in the district who have been really analyzing building data to look at what we need to have,” she said. “We surveyed staff, we surveyed parents and we’ve surveyed our students, the most important people who will benefit from all of this.”
Nicholson said the operational referendum would fund student mental health services by paying for the following additional staff:
• Three school counselors.
• Two social workers.
• Two social emotional learning coaches.
• Two graduation coaches – partnering with the Boys & Girls Club.
• Adding a .33 full-time equivalent for a full-time at-risk position at the high school.
By adding those positions, Nicholson said a school counselor would be staffed at the Cormier School and Early Learning Center, where one currently doesn’t exist, while Valley View Elementary School and Park View Middle School, which each presently have one counselor, would have two at both schools.
“In the past, there were two counselors at Park View and at Valley View, and Cormier had a part-time counselor, but because of budget cuts, we had to reduce those positions,” she said.
Nicholson said adding two full-time social workers would make it possible for the middle and high schools to each go from a half-time to a full-time position, while Valley View’s social worker position would increase from .6 FTE to full-time and another social worker would split time between Pioneer and Cormier.
She said two social emotional learning coaches, new positions for the district, would be staffed by having a full-time position at Pioneer and a part-time person at both Valley View and Cormier.
“The reason we’re only starting this at the elementary (school level) is… because the earlier we can get these services to kids, and help kids learn these skills, the better equipped they’re going to be as they get into middle school and high school, because they’ll have a plan on how to handle the behavior and challenges that they experience every single day,” she said.
Nicholson said the district will pay a third of the cost for the two full-time graduation coaches, who will work with at-risk students and cost Ashwaubenon about $20,000 each per year with one at the high school and the other at the middle school.
She said the cost for the new hires will depend on the district’s salary schedule and their amount of schooling and experience.
In addition, Nicholson said the district would also be adding social emotional learning materials and training as part of the operational referendum.
“Again, this is a starting point,” she said. “We’re going to be using (survey) data and collecting more data as we move forward to see where kids are at and where we’re going to go in the future.”
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.
District estimates place the cost of improving school security at Cormier and Pioneer 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 high school track, replace three gym floors, replace light fixtures in the gyms and replace windows and doors at Parkview.
Tax rate impact
Lucius said the estimated impact the Ashwaubenon school referendums would have on the district’s tax rate would be the operational referendum increasing the mill rate by 55 cents per $1,000 above the current property tax level for each of the next five years with the capital referendum increasing the mill rate by 10 cents per $1,000 above the current property tax level while the bonds are being paid back.
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 spend 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 spend beyond the capital referendum amount.
Prior to the Ashwaubenon school referendums going before district voters April 7, one more public information session has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, March 9, in the Cormier gym.