The Boscobel School Board approved two separate referendum questions for the April ballot at their Monday evening meeting, Jan. 18.
The first question will ask the public to approve a recurring increase in the tax levy for operations expenses to address budget shortfalls. If approved, a $1.8 million increase beyond the state imposed revenue cap would be implemented in stages. The first year would see the school district levy $950,000 beyond the current revenue cap. The second year they would raise the levy an additional $650,000, for a total of $1.6 million beyond the current revenue cap. The third year would see an increase of $200,000, for a total of $1.8 million beyond the current revenue cap
The amounts - $950,000, $1.6 million, and $1.8 million – reflect the anticipated deficits the school will face in the next three school years due to reduced aid, state imposed revenue caps, declining enrollment, and low property values.
The second question will pertain to borrowing up to, but not exceeding, $20,000,000 to build an addition to the middle/high school and make improvements to the existing middle/high school structure for the purpose of creating a single campus housing all Boscobel Area School students.
The board discussed the questions at length, inviting input from the public present, and recounting the results of an online survey.
It was pointed out to the board by both public attendee Wendi Stitzer and business consultant Carol Dyer that while the wording of the recurring operational expenses referendum may be somewhat confusing, the non-recurring version considered by the board would not address the deficit issue the district faces in the long term and it would force the board to seek another referendum in three years, a scenario likely to provoke disapprobation from voters.
Board President Todd Miller recounted that 149 people participated in the online survey he posted to gauge support for the various questions being considered. The results were:
• 51 favored the recurring operations referendum and the $20 million building referendum;
• 28 favored the non-recurring operations referendum and the $20 million building referendum;
• 27 favored doing nothing;
• 22 favored the recurring operations referendum only;
• 12 favored the $20 million building referendum only; and
• eight favored the non-recurring operations referendum only.
Board member Derek Zimpel expressed concern over the building referendum, stressing that the operational referendum was “A-1 important” and needed or the school would be forced to begin laying off staff. He asked that it be the first question on the ballot to emphasize how necessary the funding was to the school district’s continued operations.
There was some concern over whether the school would be forced to build if the building referendum passed and the operations budget did not.
If the operations referendum does not pass, and the school is forced to make deep cuts in response to the expected major deficits, the aid paid by the state is at risk of greater reduction as well, noted both board member Chuck Owens and Dyer.
“Derek made a good point,” said Miller. “If we don’t fix the day-to-day obligations, we are S.O.L.”
“I just want to see us create a solid fix for the problem,” Zimpel said.
“I still don’t know about this,” added board member Roger Knoble. “I feel we might be moving too fast on the building.”
The conversation moved onto issues of declining enrollment, a major factor in the district’s economic woes and efforts to attract and retain students.
It was noted by Owens that the building referendum would help address making the school district a more attractive option to open enrollment students while also addressing years of accumulated maintenance issues.
After approving the two questions, the board also set a Committee of the Whole meeting for Monday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. Any contractors interested in presenting to the board on the building project are welcome to attend. They are encouraged to contact Miller or operations advisor Steve Wacker for additional information on the project.
The board heard a presentation on changes to payments relating to special education students from Amy Mezera, special education director. State law changes the open enrollment payments to a flat $12,000 rate regardless of actual expense, which Mezera noted could be problematic since some student services cost more. The law also requires the school district to designate if they would restrict the number of open enrollment spaces they had available, both regular and special education.
Based upon the recommendation presented by Mezera, the board voted not to limit open enrollment.
In other business, the Boscobel School Board:
• heard an update from new technology instructor John Moran;
• tabled action on the Eye In The Sky contract;
• approved a three year renewal on the web filter and spam filtering service for $9,999;
• tabled action of the TruGreen contract;
• approved the drug testing contract for new hires with Gundersen Health System;
• approved hiring Cindy Albrecht as the high school English teacher for $24,370 for the remainder of the year;
• approved the recommendation on hiring of paraprofessionals Angela Russell (reassignment, hour increase), Julie Rosauer (reassignment, hour increase), Angela Harrell (new)
• approved spring coaches, including: middle school track and field - Julie Schellhorn and Rachel Gavin; softball - Russ Atkinson (head), Jodie Haney (asst.), Roger Thompson (volunteer); baseball - Andrew Bray and Phil Molldrem (volunteers)
• approved unpaid time off requests from Bridget Bender, Jerry Staskal, and Sara Pegram;
• accepted donations from the Athletic Boosters for $508, Boscobel United Methodist Church for $69.19, Boscobel United Methodist Church – Mt. Zion General Fund for $23.96, Boscobel Athletic Boosters for $337.50, and the Boscobel Dial for $100.;
• approved the overnight activity request for wrestling at Bi-State, post-fact due to coach staffing change; and
• went into closed session to discuss administrative contracts, no action.