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Howard-Suamico takes no action on decision-making policy amendment

By Heather Graves
Staff Writer

SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico School Board took no action Sept. 27 on a policy amendment, which would give it more decision-making power during a pandemic.

“Does the board see any reason to implement B/SR-1, Board/Superintendent Relations Policy 1 subpart B, at this time?” Board President Gary Sievert asked the board during the meeting. “No,” he said after a long, silent pause. “OK, we’ll move on.”

The amendment, adopted by the board Sept. 13, would have affected B/SR-1, which details the relationship between the superintendent and the school board.

If the board had voted to take up the issue, and it received a majority vote, trustees could have voted on whether to enact it or not – and potentially give school board members more say in decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

No discussion on the topic came from board members.

Some did, however, raise concerns about the quarantine policy currently in practice.

“I think we need to look at our quarantine process and see if there is something not quite as lenient as, just send your kids until they are sick, and where we are at today,” Board Member Greg Klimek said. “I would love to see our kids back to normalcy, but, I think, right now we are in a position where, I think, we need to get another week or two, at least, to see what (required masks for K-6) does. We need to keep kids in school.”

Public comment

Packed meetings and more than an hour dedicated to public comment is becoming the norm in Howard-Suamico.

More than a dozen parents, grandparents, teachers, students and community members voiced thoughts on the district’s recent move to required masks for the younger grades.

Held in the Bay Port Performing Arts Center, the room itself was as divided as the comments.

Masked attendees and unmasked attendees sat on opposite sides of the auditorium, with each group applauding for comments they favored.

Bay Port senior Eve Bridges fought tears as she thanked Superintendent Damian LaCroix and the school board for requiring masks for grades K-6.

“I’m happy you took that step to protect that group of young children, which means so much to many parents, teachers, the community and even students, like myself, who look after those in younger generations,” Bridges said. “However, I believe your work of safety is not yet complete. Required masking for grades 7-12 should be the next big step you all take. Walking into Bay Port on the first day of the year, I was on edge. Only about roughly 15% of students wear a mask, including myself.”

Heather Potts, a Lineville teacher, became emotional as she expressed her appreciation for moving to required masks for grades K-6.

“For the first time since the first week of school, I have every single one of my students in my classroom, in front of me, and that means a lot,” Potts said. “Virtually learning nearly killed me last year. I almost walked away from my career. I hated it. It was awful. And if wearing a piece of fabric over my face, and my students wearing a piece of fabric over their faces keeps them with me, I will take it.”

Others expressed frustration with the district’s quarantine policy.

“The goal is to have students in school, so we must stop treating healthy people as if they are ill,” parent Andrea Vlach said. “How many students are we going to send home for 7 to 10 days, that never turns into a positive case? How many lost days of education is acceptable?”

Parent Nicole McKeefry stressed the importance of unity.

“It’s been 18 months,” she said. “We need to start applying critical thinking to the things we are hearing. Social media, Facebook specifically, is horrendous. We don’t talk like this to each other. We don’t act like this. If we were standing in front of that person, we probably wouldn’t say that, so don’t say it online… Are we here for one purpose or not? Your fellow man, people who are sharing this space with you, is what is important. What are we doing?”

Sievert also read 16 additional submitted comments from the public.

State of the district

Bridging off comments received over the past several months, LaCroix introduced the district’s theme for the year – “Let’s Bring Humanity Back” – during his State of the District address.

“At the end of this, we are still going to be neighbors, we are still going to be colleagues, we are still going to be community members,” LaCroix said. “How we treat each other between now and the end of COVID, and COVID will end at some point, is going to determine how this community is going to be able to move forward – together or separately. I, for one, am appealing to you, appealing to myself, in making that happen together.”

LaCroix also highlighted:

• The district’s graduate profile.

• The team behind serving more than 2 million meals since the beginning of the pandemic.

• Results from the April 2021 staff survey.

• Funding struggles due to being a low-revenue district.

2021-22 budget

The district also held its annual budget meeting, as required by state statutes.

Dozens of community members gave their thoughts on the district’s preliminary budget.

The community approved the district’s preliminary budget of $180,906,619, an increase of 47.66%, or $86,221,055 from the 2020-21 budget, with no objections.

Mike Juech, assistant superintendent of operations, said the significant increase is due to the facilities referendum debt issuance, as $83 million for capital projects related to the successful referendum are included.

The proposed 2021-22 general fund is at $73.8 million, down from $74 million the previous year.

The proposed budget includes a tax levy increase to $31,727,318, up from $30,375,445 in 2020-21, an increase of $1,351,873 or 4.45%.
In the budget, $9.2 million is slated for debt service, an increase from $5.8 million the previous year.

When the tax levy is factored into a larger percentage increase in equalized value, the tax rate shows a reduction from $9.19 to $8.99 per $1,000 of property value, which is 1.04% below the state average tax rate of $9.22.

The district previously held a $9.19 tax rate for the past six years.

Equalized valuation is projected to increase by 6.34% to $3,529,179,904, up from $3,305,270,705.

District residents could still see a higher tax bill if their property value rises, despite the lower tax rate, because the value of property in the district continues to climb.

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