A-B schools head to voters
By Heather McDonald
Almond-Bancroft School District will ask residents for money to fund four major areas in the district in an operating referendum Tuesday, April 3, the results for which will shape the future of its schools.
“Our revenues are declining because enrollment is declining, so we have been delaying things and cutting back so as to be able to meet our obligations,” District Administrator Rich Hanson said. “The district has done as best as they can.
“We really hope that we’ve gotten information out to people and they understand the position as a district that we’re in,” he said. “We’ve really got a nice little district here, and we’re counting on the support of the community. We’re really hopeful people will get out and vote and that will tell us where we’re at. We could really move forward with this.”
The district will be asking school district residents to support $525,000 in recurring operating costs for curriculum and instruction review and updates, facility and site maintenance, retaining and recruiting high-quality teachers, and updating technology for students.
“We have many areas we need to address,” School Board President Bonnie Warzynski said. “We believe this is the most opportune time to ask voters to approve this.”
Why it is needed
The district has spent several months meeting with various groups across the district to explain the district’s situation, which is a result of declining enrollment, fewer state aids and increasing operating and program needs.
The district in the past four years has sliced its fund balance (what many would equate to an emergency savings account) by more than half to maintain programs, staff and cover maintenance issues.
Enrollment has dropped from about 500 students several years ago to less than 400, which negatively affects the amount of money the district receives from the state. Because the decrease is not limited to a specific grade or a specific program, savings has not been able to be realized by cutting programs or staff.
In comparison to the 12 school district closest to Almond-Bancroft, the district comes in at 10th in beginning base salary. It drops to 11th for highest paid teachers. In order to attract and maintain high quality teachers, Hanson said, the district must invest in its staff. Salaries for teachers are about $5,000 to $6,000 less than that of teachers in surrounding districts.
“We would not be able to maintain where we’re at without this,” Hanson said.
The net cost to residents in terms of taxes would be zero, because the district is retiring two previous referenda debts this year: one a 20-year, $451,000 debt from a 1998 building addition, and the second a five-year debt for a 2013 technology referendum for $75,000.
The total for those two debts is a little bit more than what the district is requesting in this referendum, which results in a wash, so there would be no increase in the $9.35 tax rate per $1,000 equalized valuation.
“If we were able to address our concerns and the things we’ve been putting off for a number of years now, that would be the maximum we could levy,” Hanson said. “If we are meeting our needs, we could levy less.”
Specific dollar amounts are not tagged to any of the four major areas that the referendum money will address, but the district does have an idea of what would be addressed first if the referendum passes, Hanson said.
“Our top priority is our curriculum and instruction needs, we have not done a comprehensive review of our curriculum,” he said. “Over the course of time with teachers coming and going and changing grade levels, with all of those pieces, the curriculum our teachers are following have become somewhat segmented, we don’t have that clear scope and sequence.
“Also, the instructional training for our teachers so our teachers can continue to provide education at a high level, they need to have the training to remain up to date – you need to have continual training so you can continue to grow,” Hanson said. “We’ve started putting pieces in place to start to roll that out next year.”
When those debt obligations retire this year, the district will lose that money from its budget, Hanson said, further affecting the ability to keep up with projects and educating students.
“We obviously would need to look at reductions,” he said. “Would that mean our programming would change? Yes, it would, would it probably involve staff reductions? It probably would. When 85 percent of your budget is salary and benefits, when you have to make cuts that’s a area you would probably do it.
“The technology would need to be significantly cut back,” Hanson said. “It would probably be a little from (everywhere) because obviously we have to live within our means.”
The district already is preparing for some staff reductions, and if the referendum fails, reductions would definitely occur, he said, but if it is approved, the district can take a different look at it.
How the district is addressing constraints
Administration and board members already are planning for changes to implement cost savings, such as switching insurance to a cooperative model and Wednesday, March 21, approving the elimination of one bus route.
“We’ve done a lot of reviewing in budgetary areas to see if this is the best way to use our funds or is there a more efficient way of doing it,” Hanson said. “The last thing we want to do is eliminate programs.”
Items identified in the referendum areas:
– Updating and upgrading curriculum and instructional needs: The district has not reviewed or updated its curriculum as a whole in many years. Teachers will be integral in the review; the district will examine what is taught currently, identify any gaps or overlapping, look at how state standards fit in, and determine instructional sequence to ensure students are learning at the appropriate grade level and transitioning their learning to the next higher grade.
Instructional resources and training would follow, Hanson said.
– Facility and site maintenance: Identified maintenance projects and equipment replacement includes updated outdoor security lighting, replacing bathroom fixtures, boiler maintenance, replacing law mower, maintenance truck, school van, snow blower and floor cleaning machines; and in five to seven years replacing at least 25 percent of the district’s roofs and conducting parking lot improvements.
– Retaining and recruiting highly qualified teachers: The district will examine its current salary and wage information and hopes to address gaps in those figures to better recruit and keep quality teachers in the district. Base pay for teachers at Almond-Bancroft is $34,750; Stevens Point Area Public School District, by comparison, last year increased its base pay to $40,000 from $38,546.
– Continuing to update technology students use to learn: The district needs to replace items such as computers, smart boards, projectors, servers, outdated security camera systems and the hardware that goes with computers and technology.
For more information, visit www.abschools.k12.wi.us/Page/3887.