Howard-Suamico school board talks finances
By Lea Kopke
SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico school board voted to approve the sale of $83 million in bonds at its meeting June 21.
The bonds will fund the first phase of referendum projects, with the second phase seeing $15 million in bonds in 2023.
Mike Juech, assistant superintendent of operations, said last week the district received a bond rating of AA, which put the district ahead of the state median of AA-.
Juech said the bidding process took place June 21, with six firms placing bids.
“This was one of the most exciting days…” Juech said. “Watching the screen, and waiting for that four minutes of excitement when bids started to roll in.”
Michelle Wiberg, chief sales and marketing officer at PMA Financial Network, said firms submit bids through a virtual platform and can improve that bid if they’re not in first place – though they can not see the number of the first place bid.
In the end, Baird placed the winning bid, which locked in a true interest cost of 1.84%.
Wiberg said it’s a 20-year bond, with fiscal payments due March 1 of each year through 2041, and the first interest payment due March 2022.
The total interest cost to pay off the bonds after 20 years is just more than $18 million.
The debt is prepayable, which means the district can decide to refinance or prepay it after eight years.
Juech discussed highlights with the board of the 2020-21 final budget and previewed the 2021-22 budget.
He said during the 2020-21 school year, the district saw almost $300,000 in unexpected funding from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds and Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) funds donated by the Village of Suamico.
During the year, the district worked on facilities updates, had its referendums approved and increased staff compensation.
Juech said there was a 2.03% base salary increase, along with retention bonuses of $1,000 for returning full-time staff and $500 for returning part-time staff.
The board unanimously approved the 2020-21 final budget report.
Next, Juech talked about the proposed 2021-22 budget.
He discussed the uncertainty of ESSER funds and a letter sent by the five largest Wisconsin school districts asking the state Legislature not to jeopardize the funding.
“The good news is adjustments were made that look like ESSER funds will no longer be in jeopardy,” Juech said.
He quoted a communication from the Wisconsin Association of School Councils, which asked the state to increase general needs for school districts.
“Doing so without the corresponding increase in revenue limits means that there’s an increase for education in name only,” the communication said.
Juech said the district needs to continue its advocacy efforts, which have already included attending Joint Finance Committee hearings and having conversations with legislators.
He said the district should focus on advocating:
• Increases in special education funding.
• An inflationary increase in general revenues.
• Revenue limit equity.
• Plans to mitigate the detrimental three-year fiscal effects of COVID-19.
• Consideration of declining enrollments.
“I think as we continue to tell our story, and share what’s going on, those are important points to make,” Juech said.
At the end of the facilities update, board member Jason Potts asked about air conditioning, an issue he said was a hot topic at the end of the school year.
Director of Facilities Al Behnke said currently the district is focused on planning for its major building initiatives, Forest Glen Elementary and Bay View Middle schools, before it begins other projects.
“When you’re talking about air conditioning in a space like Meadowbrook, I mean that is a major, major undertaking,” Behnke said. “So, it’s gonna take time – just like with the building revisions – it’s gonna take time to put that together.”
He said, as of now, the district expects to begin each of these projects next summer.