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Referendum questions set in Howard-Suamico

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico school board officially set part of April’s ballot, and with it a pair of referendum questions at its Monday, Jan. 11, meeting.

The district began discussions around another referendum question in fall of 2019.

In 2018, voters approved a non-recurring referendum for the district to exceed the state-imposed revenue cap by $5.85 million a year for five years.

Its passage allowed the district to reduce classroom sizes by hiring more teachers, increased compensation for teachers and allowed for increased facilities maintenance.

One of the two referendum questions voters will be asked in April will allow the district to extend a revenue limit override through the 2027-28 school year.

The question also decreases the amount the district would be allowed to exceed the state-imposed revenue cap down to $5 million annually starting in the 2023-24 school year.

“We’ve looked to reduce that from $5.8 million to $5 million,” said Mike Juech, assistant superintendent of operations. “A portion of that is we still have facility maintenance needs… but (we are) bringing that down because we are going to hopefully be able to impact some of those projects.”

The second referendum question would allow the district to bond for $98 million for school improvement projects.

“The two areas we spent a lot of time on was accomplishing the basic site needs and the opportunities for flexible spaces, collaboration areas,” said Greg Klimek, co-chair of the district Referendum Task Force.

A 44-person task force made up of staff, parents, community members and two students met virtually four times since October and presented the board with its findings.

The largest portion of the $98 million would go to Bay View Middle School, with a new gym addition to free up space, converting the gym from 1963 to a cafeteria, relocating and expanding the main office, moving the orchestra room to the existing kitchen – closer to other music rooms, renovating classrooms to provide flexible connectivity and lab and small group spaces.

This is anticipated to cost $50.9 million.

The second largest referendum portion, $25.8 million, would go to Forest Glen Elementary School for a new gym addition to free up space, converting the old gym to a cafeteria, adding natural light and transparent and moveable walls, and renovating the lobby and former district office space.

The remaining $21.3 million would go to improve other schools in the district.

The other task force co-chair, Elizabeth Powers, called many of the remaining projects, such as roofing, windows, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electrical systems, along with issues related to Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility, “basic upkeep.”

“In fixing all those other things, why don’t we just do the renovations with them?” Powers said. “It makes so much sense just to go the step further. There is so much we need to do in those buildings, it just makes so much sense to go a step further.”

Powers said the task force also recommended the board should lower the district’s property tax rate of $9.19 per $1,000 of equalized value, which it has held for the past five years.

Michele Wiberg, chief sales and marketing officer for PMA, a consulting firm hired by the district, said it’s possible, and specifics of how that would work will be discussed at a future meeting.

“As you contemplate a $98 million project, there certainly is opportunity to accomplish that and lower the tax rate,” Wiberg said.

Board member Jason Potts, who was also on the task force, thanked the group for its work and detailed report that was presented to the full board.

“We gave them a charge, we started,” Potts said. “In essence, this is their charge back to us. This is their recommendation for what they believe the community will be able to support and what will also meet the community’s needs.”

For more information on the referendum, to view the questions and to submit inquiries to the district, visit hssdschools.org.

Open enrollment

As mandated by the state, the district also presented the board with open enrollment availability for the 2021-22 school year.

Mark Smith, deputy superintendent, said the district will have 30 open spaces for 4K, and 45 open spaces in grades 9-12 for regular education.

For special education, he said because of a lack of regular education spaces, each case will be reviewed, but chances are slim the district can take any special education open enrollment spaces.

“The assumption is special education students, based upon how they’re categorized, receive both pull-out services and regular education services,” Smith said. “So if there’s no space in regular ed, you would deny on that.”

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