NORTH CRAWFORD - At their Monday, April 18 meeting, the North Crawford School Board took up the topic of development of referenda to be placed on the November 2022 election ballot. The two referendums would authorize the district to exceed the property tax levy limit set by the State of Wisconsin.
“We need to make very clear to the voters in the school district that there will be two separate referenda placed on the ballot in November,” board member Jesse Swenson said. “There will be an operating referendum to help the district maintain instruction and services, and a capital improvement referendum to allow the district to make needed repairs or improvements to our buildings.”
North Crawford School Superintendent Brandon Munson reported to the board on the current status of referenda development, and the timeline for completing the process. He explained that the series of four meetings of the Advisory Task Force (ATF), composed of interested citizens in the school district has been completed.
These meetings were intended to secure ideas, input and feedback about what repairs or improvements are needed for district buildings, and what the voter’s appetite is to support the district in paying for them through an increase in the property tax levy.
“We haven’t invested any money in our district building for 30 years,” board president Mary Kuhn said. “We all know that if we own a property, and don’t engage in needed maintenance, then eventually the bill comes due for the work that we deferred, and the cost only goes up over time.”
Munson pointed out that 80 percent of the referendums proposed by school districts on the April 5 ballot had passed, which is a historic high. He said that the results indicate that support for public schools is high.
Munson said that at the last meeting of the ATF, the district had revealed for the first time estimated numbers for what the scenario for the district would be if an operating referendum to pay for continuation of district instruction and curriculum were not passed. This estimated, developed with the district’s financial consultant, Baird, projects budget deficits as soon as the 2024-2025 school year.
The proposed operating referendum amount would be for a recurring $900,000 per year. This would be phased in slowly over the course of four years, at Year 1, $300,000; Year 2, $250,000; Year 3, $200,000; and Year 4, $150,000. Beginning in year five, we would then have an additional $900,000 of revenue built into our base to use to pay staff salary and benefits, increased operational costs, sustaining our instructional programming and curriculum without making programmatic cuts, and to budget for deferred maintenance projects.
“Phasing the additional levied operating revenue in slowly over the course of four years would allow us to make adjustments based on any changes to state aid to schools that may come about in future state budgets,” Munson said. “It is important to know that the numbers we are working with are just estimates, which is always how it is with school district budgets.”
At the fourth ATF meeting, the district also revealed what the cost would be to property taxpayers under a $5.5 million, and a $6.5 million referendum, for debt service for borrowing to make needed repairs or improvements to district facilities.
“If both the operating referendum, and a capital improvement referendum at the $6.5 million level were passed, that would result in $150 per $100,000 of assessed value increase for the operating referendum, and $76 per $100,000 of assessed value for the capital improvement referendum,” Munson explained. “That would mean a total of $226 per $100,000 of assessed value.”
The board felt strongly that in the survey to be sent out in April to voters in the district, the language of the survey should make crystal clear that there would be two referenda on the November ballot. That survey will be made available electronically through e-mail and social media, and will also be available as a hard-copy paper option from the district for those that are less familiar with online options.
The survey will be available to voters for at least five weeks, and Munson estimated the results would be available to the board for review at their May meeting. From there, the board will work to develop final referenda language at their June meeting. The final language of the two referenda to be placed on the November ballot must be finalized 75 days before the election or approximately in the month of August.
“I am concerned that voters will focus on the building/capital improvement referendum, and not understand that there will be an operating referendum as well,” Kuhn said. “We don’t want to appear to be ‘dramatic,’ as if we’re overstating the consequences of not passing the operational referendum, but they need to clearly understand that without those additional funds, the district is poised to fall off of a financial cliff.”
Building projects rating
Coming out of the fourth ATF meeting, ratings for the various building maintenance or improvement projects proposed by the district and their architectural and building consultant partners (FEH Design and Kramer Construction) were available at the April 18 school board meeting. The numbers, provided by Kramer are refined rough estimates. Final numbers will be developed at such time as the projects are authorized.
The top nine projects identified by attendees at the fourth ATF meeting would come in within a $5.5 million facility maintenance referendum amount. The projects, currently estimated at a cost of $5,010,000, include (projects presented in descending order of ranking):
• Reroof of entire building $2,890,000
• Repair Exterior Insulation & finish system at above roof walls $170,000
• Replace exterior windows $150,000
• Agriculture lab, finishing room and project storage addition $700,000
• Add Childcare rooms $130,000 (renovation option) or add if childcare is an addition +$230,000 (total $360,000) ***
• Outdoor concessions, restroom structure, new sanitary line, 600 SF $175,000
• Replace parking lot paving south of the building $175,000
• Media Center, teaching space, tutoring room, booth, windows $100,000 **
• Replace parking lot paving west and north of the building $290,000
If a capital improvement referendum were authorized at the $6.5 million level, then in addition to the projects listed above, these additional projects could be accomplished for a total of $6,275,000 (projects presented in descending order of ranking):
• Renovate family Cons. Science, Life Skills, Career & Tech Ed rooms $600,000
• Add mezzanine storage above commons to gain classroom back $190,000
• Update Middle School Showers, $75,000
• Update indoor concessions, shelving, cabinets, electrical $20,000 *
• Add four restrooms, unisex $90,000
• Provide additional 16-feet of trophy cases $12,000
• Move student services to other side of building in connected space $9,000 *
• Replace flooring in hallways and common areas $130,000
• Update High School Showers $75,000
• Provide a Special Education sensory room. Add swing, wall padding $8,000
• Repair existing sewage vault $5,000
• Fix the PA system $50,000
* At the April 18 meeting, the board voted to use funds from their Fund 46 and/or Fund 10 accounts to pursue three of the projects on the list this summer. The Fund 10 balance contains an extra $52,000 in state aid to the district provided by the administration of Governor Evers – this amount was authorized after the district’s 2021-2022 budget was finalized, and so constitutes a projected budget surplus.
** The three projects approved to be undertaken this summer (highlighted in bold above) will cost an estimated total of $49,000. The Media Center improvement proposed would cost an estimated $20,000 to complete a portion of the total proposed $100,000 estimated cost of that project, meaning that the remaining project elements would cost an additional $80,000 if approved through a referendum by the voters.
*** The board engaged in extensive discussion of the proposed development of a day care facility in the district, which is viewed as important to achievement of the staff retention goal, and could also provide a day care option that would allow district residents who qualify for SHARE funding for daycare to have an accredited option.
Board discussion of the daycare option was as follows:
“I’d like to see the daycare option developed as soon as possible, perhaps even this summer,” board member Jim Dworschack said. “I see this as an essential staff recruitment and retention tool.”
“I want to see the option for developing the daycare in the potential project listing be the cost to build the addition at $360,000, and to see the $130,000 renovation option removed from the list,” board member Jerry Coleman said. “If we’re going to do this, we need to pursue the most realistic option.”
North Crawford Elementary Principal Amanda Killeen reported that the daycare option for staff is likely an essential undertaking to be able to retain the existing staff, and to recruit new staff. For this reason, she said, the district is pursuing a conversation with a daycare provider that may be interested in operating a private daycare business for staff only in the existing space in the middle school building.
“We would see this as a pilot program, to dip our toes in the water, meet staff needs, and to see what the demand for this service looks like,” Killeen said. “This limited daycare option would not have all the bells and whistles needed for the accreditation that would allow those with SHARE to access services, but it would allow us to further assess the possibilities with daycare without taking the step of spending district funds for a renovation or addition.”
Munson explained that other districts in the state have operated daycare facilities in school buildings using this model, with mixed results.
“In some cases, it has worked, and in others it hasn’t,” Munson said. “Typically, if these daycares have failed, it was because they were either hemorrhaging money, couldn’t secure and retain adequate staffing, or both.”
Other project priorities
The remaining project priorities ranked by ATF meeting attendees, and associated estimated costs are as follows (projects presented in descending order of ranking):
• Addition of a second meeting room $350,000
• Add upper stage storage mezzanine $100,000
• High School and Elementary School restroom updates $77,000
• Update fencing around playground $2,000
• Multipurpose room (54’x86’)for indoor recess, dance, wrestling, and aerobics $1,400,000
• Replace paving at the bus barn $60,000
Superintendent Brandon Munson started the meeting by recognizing 24-year board veteran and board president Mary Kuhn’s years of service.
“This may be the last meeting that Mary Kuhn participates in as a board member and board chair,” Munson observed. “Mary has been on the board almost as long as our new building has been here, and she has always been a good mentor to me in that time. She embodies everything that a true school board member should be – I have often seen her set her own personal beliefs aside to lead the board in making decisions that are in the best interests of the students and staff in the district.”
Munson told the board that there is a lot more that goes into being the school board president than is seen in the board’s monthly meetings. He said that Kuhn had put in “countless hours” outside of regular meetings, with weekly or even multiple times weekly conversations, committee meetings, fielding phone calls from constituents, and more.
“I have appreciated Mary’s leadership, time and guidance,” Munson said.
Kuhn told the board that she will miss the challenge of serving on the school board, and being around to help shape the school district in the next few years. She observed that there are lots of hard decisions facing the district in the next few years.
“Serving on the school board has been the most challenging and rewarding job that I’ve ever had,” Kuhn said. “What I won’t miss are all the sleepless nights where I worried about decisions we had made, and decisions that we needed to make – I won’t miss that part.”
In other business
In other business, the North Crawford School Board:
• heard that the district had received a $10,000 grant from the DPI that will pay for teacher training in use of a high quality curriculum – this will be spent on training over the summer, and online training
• heard that elementary counselor Max Moderski had made a presentation recently to school districts across the region about the ‘Sources of Strength’ curriculum
• heard that the district is still actively recruiting members of the community who may have lessons to share with students to volunteer for the ‘Connecting to the Strengths of the Village’ enrichment program
• heard that middle school students will be making visits to both UW-LaCrosse and UW-Platteville before the end of the school year
• heard that high school juniors had done a great job taking the ACT exam
• heard that some middle and high school teachers would be taking additional training in the ‘Sources of Strength’ curriculum
• heard that the school nutrition team was recognized by DPI in March with the ‘School Breakfast Hero Award’
• heard that foodservice will offer locally-raised pork from the Durst family in the 2022-2023 school year, to include pork roasts, brats, breakfast links and ground sausage
• approved a contract with CESA-3 for just under $27,000, reduced from the 2021-2022 $66,000 contract amount
• approved the 2022-2023 school course handbook• approved making the last day of school, June 1, an early release day where students will be done with school at 1 p.m.