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Citizens gather to learn more about school refere
For North Crawford
NC Referendum meeting at SGFD
ALMOST 20 CITIZENS attended an information meeting about the upcoming operational and capital improvement referendums for the North Crawford School District. Voters in the district will be asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the ballot of the Tuesday, Nov. 8 General Election.

NORTH CRAWFORD - Almost 20 citizens and school staff gathered at the Soldiers Grove Fire Department on Wednesday, Oct. 26, to learn more about the two school referendums that will appear on the upcoming November 8 election ballot.

“I live in the district with my family, graduated from North Crawford, and as a taxpayer in the district, these referendums will impact my family just as it will impact yours,” Superintendent Brandon Munson said to the group. “But my children attend this school, and so the benefits of approving these referendums will also benefit my family just like it will benefit yours.”

One last community information session is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 2, from 6-7:30 p.m., in the school cafeteria. Building tours will also be available at that event.

“Our district has arrived at this point where we need to come to the taxpayers of the district and ask you to approve additional funding to allow the school to continue to offer our programs and services to students, and to make needed repairs to our buildings and grounds,” Munson told the crowd. “Across Wisconsin, there are a record number of school referendums on the ballot on November 8, and this is because school districts in Wisconsin have been underfunded for years and no new funding was approved by the state legislature in the last two-year budget.”

Munson said that North Crawford, like most other school districts around the state, had been forced to use federal pandemic relief funds to plug the gaps in budgets in recent years. He referred to this situation as a ‘fiscal cliff,’ where this one-time funding would be used up by 2023, leaving districts without other means to balance their budgets or maintain their infrastructure.

Operational referendum

Munson started first by explaining the need for the operational referendum, citing a list of factors that have led to this point. Those factors include:

• historical increases in staff salaries (four to seven percent)

• continued increases in health insurance (five percent)

• overall increases in cost of general operations (supplies, food, fuel, utilities, etc.)

• no increases in revenue from the State of Wisconsin for the past two years

Munson explained that funding for school districts, which comes mostly from the state, with lesser amounts from federal and local governments, comes in all at one time. A healthy fund balance allows the district to respond to any unanticipated expenses that may come up without having to borrow money and pay interest.

“Our current fund balance is $2,312,381, and this amount is in line with Department of Public Instruction recommendations for the reserves a district should maintain,” Munson explained. “These funds are not meant to cover the recurring expenses of school operations.”

Munson explained that because of revenue caps imposed by state statute, school districts are limited in the amount of assistance they have a right to levy for from local property taxpayers. Statute does allow the district to go to the taxpayers with a referendum seeking their permission to exceed the property tax revenue cap.

Recurring referendum

The operations referendum appearing on the November 8 ballot is a recurring referendum. Munson explained the difference between a ‘recurring’ and a ‘non-recurring’ referendum to those present.

“Our district has only come to the taxpayers four times in the last 26 years to ask for a revenue increase or capital improvement project,” Munson pointed out. “Three of the four times, those referendums have passed, with only the 2015 referendum asking to authorize borrowing to build a wellness center defeated.”

• the first of the four referendums was passed by voters in the district in 1996, authorizing the borrowing of $1,950,000 for purposes of constructing the addition to the current school building

• the second of the four referendums was a ‘non-recurring’ referendum, authorizing the district to levy an additional $300,000 per year over the revenue cap from 2003-2009. After 2009, that revenue went away

• the third of the four was a ‘recurring’ referendum, similar to the one on the November 8 ballot. That 2008 referendum passed handily, and put in place the district’s right to levy $400,000 per year beyond the revenue cap on an ongoing basis

• the fourth referendum, which was defeated by the voters, was for borrowing in 2015.

“The operations referendum on the ballot on November 8, will be a recurring referendum, ramping up to the full requested amount of $900,000 per year over the course of 2022 through 2026,” Munson explained. “Starting in 2027, this means the district will levy above the revenue cap in the amount of $900,000 per year on an ongoing basis.”

What this will mean is a levy of an additional $300,000 in 2022-2023; an additional $550,000 in 2023-2024; an additional $750,000 in 2024-2025; and an additional $900,000 starting in 2025-2026.

Munson said that because of the recent announcement that equalized property values in the district had increased by 14 percent in the last year, the tax impacts of the operational referendum had decreased. What this means is that a property valued at $100,000 in district will see only a $31 per year increase in property taxes.

Capital improvements

The second referendum that will appear on the November 8 ballot will ask voters to authorize the district borrowing of up to $4,500,000 in order to complete needed maintenance on the building and grounds. Many of these maintenance projects have been deferred due to lack of funds, and as Munson pointed out, are only becoming more expensive with every passing year.

“All of the main components of our building are original, which is to say they’re between 26 and 31 years old,” Munson told the group. “The leaking from the roof is wreaking havoc with our ceiling panels, damaging the concrete blocks our walls are built with, damaging windows, and most recently, damaging our small gym floor and insulation over the cafeteria, causing costly repairs.”

Munson said the aging components of the building meant that the scope and cost of needed maintenance was becoming more costly with every passing year. This, combined with certain code violations of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the corresponding legal exposure of the district, mean that time is of the essence for these repairs. He also cited changes in the nature of instructional programming over the years and changes in community needs as drivers for the proposed projects.

“The first step in preparing for the needed maintenance of our buildings and grounds was taken in 2016 when the board created a 10-year capital improvement plan for the district,” Munson said. “In this last year, we engaged FEH Design, Baird Financial and Kraemer Construction to help assess our facilities and guide us through the referendum development project.”

Munson said that multiple meetings of a ‘Citizen Advisory Taskforce’ had been held in late 2021 and 2022 to obtain citizen input about what kinds of repairs or upgrades matter to the community. A survey which received over 200 responses had guided the district in the dollar amount of capital improvement projects the taxpayers would support as well.

“Our district had the foresight to create a Fund 46 savings account for capital improvement projects about six years ago,” Munson pointed out. “It was our intention to deposit between $50,000 and $100,000 per year into that account to prepare for needed maintenance, but because of underfunding of school districts by the state, we’ve not been able to do so.”

Munson said the district had been able to accomplish some smaller maintenance projects on the building in that time, with a combination of Fund 46 funding and grant funding. Those projects included preventative maintenance on the roof, HVAC system, boiler and parking lots; replacing of all exterior doors; creating secure entryways for student and staff safety; sealing of the building envelope; installation of LED lighting; replacing flooring in the front hallway; and replacement of diesel buses in the fleet with propane buses.

Priorities for use of the $4,500,000 in funding on the ballot on November 8 include:

• a complete roof replacement

• upper wall replacement where the stucco panels are leaking

• exterior window replacement

• bathroom and shower renovations to comply with the ADA and other health regulations.

Tier two priorities for use of the funding would include:

• parking lot replacements

• flooring replacement

• instructional spaces for consumer and technical education

• storage solutions

• community childcare

• other projects as identified

“I get a phone call almost every day asking if we have openings in our childcare facility,” elementary principal Amanda Killeen told the group. “There is a crying need for quality childcare in our district, and it serves as a student and staff recruitment and retention tool as well.”

Early childhood lead teacher Peggy Schmitt told the group that the facility is currently operating at capacity with 25 children and babies, with 17 currently on the waiting list. She said that in order to expand the service, she would need both more space and more staff.

Munson said that due to the 14 percent increase in equalized value for property in the district, the cost of the proposed capital improvement projects had also decreased to $55 per year for a property valued at $100,000.

“We also refer to this as the debt service referendum,” Munson said. “What that means is that the district would borrow $4,500,000 over 20 years at an estimated 4.5 percent interest.”

To sum it up

To sum it up, if approved the total cost to taxpayers if both referendums were passed on a property valued at $100,000 would be $86 per year. The mil rate of the district would be $8.63, increasing from $7.77. Over the years, the mil rate has been much higher in the district, at $9.68 in 2013-2014, $9.80 in 2014-2015, $9.35 in 2015-2016, $9.13 in 2016-2017, and $9.31 in 2016-2017.

“When people ask me which of the two referendums is more important, I tell them ‘yes,’” Munson said. “Both are crucial – our costs will only go up for maintenance if we continue to defer it, but if we have to slash programs and services because of inadequate operational funding, then what will the point be of having a well-maintained building?”

Munson emphasized that the district is not asking their community to spend on things the district ‘wants,’ but only on things the district ‘needs.’ He said they are not looking at adding programs or staff, but simply asking the community to reinvest in the future of their community school.

“For the average taxpayer, for less than 50 cents per day, if you vote for these referendums, you will be making a $5.4 million investment in current and future students, staff and facilities of the North Crawford School District,” Munson said.