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Howard-Suamico referendum plans discussed

By Lea Kopke

SUAMICO – Elements regarding a potential 2021 referendum question were discussed at the Howard-Suamico school board meeting Monday, Aug. 10.

Superintendent Damian LaCroix said the board decided to carry on with referendum discussions and plans, regardless of current events.

“If you recall we last met back in June, and at that point we talked about what’s the appropriate way to enter back into this conversation in the midst of a pandemic, economic contractions, a politically and emotionally charged environment,” LaCroix said. “And yet I think the assessment that night is that we need to continue the momentum, we need to continue the conversation.”

Michael Juech, assistant superintendent of operations, led the discussion of where planning is and where it needs to go.

Juech said at a base level, the referendum is needed to help maintain the results of the district’s last referendum, which included reducing class sizes, increasing teacher salaries and facilities maintenance.

He said additional needs to include maintenance work on Forest Glen Elementary School and Bay View Middle School – including the possible installation of air conditioning – and other facilities upgrades included in the master plan.

As part of the referendum plans, Juech said the district needs to gather data and send out surveys to determine the current tax tolerance, as it did before its 2018 referendum.

Juech said the district is considering moving to a $9.49 tax rate, up from the $9.19 per $1,000 of home value it has held for the past five years.

“We do believe this is something we will continue to discuss,” he said, “Because we need to have some more survey data. We need to have some more information to check if this is accurate still, or get a better idea as to what that number is.”

The increased tax rate would allow for more funding, which Juech said is necessary to keep up district buildings.

“Bay View was told that they were next 20 years ago when the high school was built,” Juech said. “They’re still waiting 20 years later for that next. They really want to operate as a middle school, but they can’t operate. They’re doing their best to operate within the facility that they have, but they’re not really operating as a true middle school.”

Teresa Ford, school board president, said she believes it’s important for the district to determine referendum priorities and plans.

“One of the things we’ve always worried about is, ‘What do we need?’” Ford said. “We want to separate the needs from the wants. The wants are terrific, but at this time I don’t know how many wants we have.”

Return to school plan details

Lead members of task forces gave updates on plans regarding reopening for the fall.

LaCroix said though the basics of the plan have been outlined, it’s important to focus on the details.

“In our final task force meeting my challenge to our team was, ‘How do we go from good to great?” he said. “I think we go from good to great by attending to details and there’s no shortage of details here.”

Juech presented the district’s plan for daily deep cleaning, which will include educating staff on cleaning procedures, health and safety.

He said facilities will be cleaned daily to ensure safety and to allow for two cohorts of students to attend school every other day, rather than two days in a row.

Becky Walker, assistant superintendent of academics and innovation, presented the professional development plan, which focuses on consistent staff development and best practices for students at the 5-12 grade levels.

As a part of the professional development plan, she said teachers will meet for one of two two-day sessions in August.
Mark Smith, deputy superintendent, presented plans for personnel and human resources.

With more than 800 student applicants to the fully online program, Smith said the district is working on ensuring equal class sizes and looking over staff applications for teaching fully online in grades 4K-6.

Teachers in grades 7-12 will be accommodating students who choose to be fully online, so he said no standalone online teachers are needed at those levels.

Smith addressed worries regarding having enough substitutes in the fall.

He said the district has sent out a survey to previous substitutes to see how many would be willing to return this school year.

Smith said the district is also looking into ways to staff itself in emergency conditions.

This includes creating procedures and looking into certifying staff who have a bachelor’s degree and are working in other areas, such as special needs aids, for teaching.

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