Referendum plans ramp up in Howard-Suamico
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – Two-hundred-and-four days remained for the Howard-Suamico school board at the Monday, Sept. 14, meeting to get to work on the next potential referendum question.
“I’ve been talking for several months about the potential of going to referendum in spring of 2021 and we’re just 204 days away,” said Superintendent Damian LaCroix, “which doesn’t seem like much, but it’s just under seven months from today.”
LaCroix mentioned the dedication of the original Bay Port High School, now Bay View Middle School, on Dec. 8. 1963.
“One of the projects in need of attention is our 57-year-old former high school, which in many ways resembles the original structure built in the 1960s,” he said.
LaCroix introduced Kit Dailey, engagement specialist with EUA, an architecture firm which has remodeled a middle school in Kettle Moraine, the high school in Menasha and constructed the high school in Verona, among others.
Dailey said EUA works on plans for the buildings and helps districts navigate the process of putting a referendum question on the ballot.
“Personally, I’ve been through over 200 referenda, and every one of those has some lesson you learn along the way,” she said.
Dailey said the board has a drop-dead date of Jan. 26, 2021 to finalize a question for the April ballot, and it needs to have answers to questions by February 2021, when absentee ballots are sent out and voting could begin.
Though specific details have yet to have been ironed out, LaCroix said there’s a chance the $9.19 tax rate could remain because the district has used only 5 percent of its allowable debt limit and interest rates are low.
“I think the school district has this unique opportunity to be the glue that brings the community together on a number of fronts,” he said.
In 2018, voters approved an operational referendum to allow the district to exceed the revenue cap by $5.85 million a year for five years.
With that, the district was able to hire more teachers to reduce the class sizes, better compensate teachers and plan for additional facility maintenance.
There was no word Monday if the potential April 2021 referendum would include two questions to separate teacher compensation with building needs.
“This is a very aggressive timeline, so we need to work through some of those things, and we need to do so pretty quickly,” said Michael Juech, assistant superintendent of operations.
A mailing will be sent to district residents Sept. 21 with a link to an online survey to gauge feedback on the potential referendum. A paper option will also be available.
Preliminary budget approved
The board also approved a preliminary budget of $86,098,674 and a tax levy of $28,951,319 for the 2020-21 school year.
Projected total general fund revenues are $69,915,433, down .26 percent from the unaudited revenues of 2019-20, which are $70,098,074.
Projected general fund expenditures are $69,915,433, up .47 percent form the unaudited expenditures of 2019-20, which are $69,587,269.
The proposed budget also includes keeping the $9.19 tax rate per $1,000 of property value for the sixth straight year.
However, residents could see increased property tax bills if property values continue to rise in the district.
“Conservative, creative and flexible, that’s how we worked to build this,” Juech said.
Brian Nicol, director of communications, presented the board with a new dashboard which tracks the number of active COVID-19 cases in the district, along with those who have had to quarantine.
Although specific numbers were not discussed by the board, the new dashboard showed current and active cases as of 3 p.m. Sept. 11.
The dashboard showed Bay Port, the district office, Howard Elementary School and Lineville Intermediate School each had one staff member with a positive case of COVID-19, and 21 staff members in quarantine.
At the same time, Bay Port had 17 students test positive, and 29 quarantined students, Bay View had one student test positive and 14 students quarantined, five students quarantined at Forest Glen Elementary School with no positive cases, 12 students quarantined at Howard Elementary with no positive cases, five students quarantined at Lineville with no positive cases, six students quarantined at Meadowbrook Elementary School with no positive cases and one positive case at Suamico Elementary School, and four quarantined students.
“The plan at this point is to update this data on a weekly basis, Thursday or Friday,” Nicol said. “To be clear, the data represents a snapshot of what’s true at that point in time.”