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Southwestern pursues bonds for repairs
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HAZEL GREEN—The financing process for improvements to Southwestern Schools is underway.

The Southwestern School Board of Education took action on July 13 to approve a resolution that authorizes the issuance of general obligation bonds in the amount not to exceed $7 million. This is the initial step in the process to secure the financing for potential repairs and improvements at both the high school and elementary school buildings.

In May, the school board invited the community to tour both buildings to see first-hand the conditions students and staff experience every day. The buildings both need roof replacements, air quality improvements and maintenance updates.

Several meetings later, the school board is still working on a final plan, which may include both Act 32 funds as well as a referendum, but hopes to have the financing in place to be able to proceed quickly with energy efficiency and code violation issues, potentially in 2017.

Michele Wilberg of PMA Financial Network said the $7 million is being financed for primarily energy efficiency projects at the two schools. Two other options, estimated to cost $3 million and $6 million, could be added through a referendum in April to make further improvements to the school. The energy efficiency projects could be completed through Act 32, the state’s energy exemption that allows a school to upgrade its facilities by exceeding the revenue limit without a referendum if the projects provide energy savings.

The Southwestern School District currently has a mill rate of $8.11 per $1,000 of valuation, well below the state average of $10.56. To just work on the energy efficiency projects that would fall under Act 32, the district’s mill rate would increase by $1.53 per $1,000 of valuation. For the option that would add an additional $3 million for improvements through a referendum, the district’s mill rate would increase by $2.11 per $1,000 of valuation. For a larger referendum, $6 million, the mill rate would increase $2.47 per $1,000 of valuation. All three scenarios would be for a 20-year period.

Following the initial resolution, a public notice was published in the Tri-County Press and a public hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, July 26, at 7:30 p.m. at the high school multimedia room. Following the public hearing, where the entire project will be discussed at length, a 30-day petition period will begin. Anyone wishing to petition the school board concerning the project should seek signatures from district taxpayers. The last step is to finalize the borrowing, which needs to be completed by Oct. 1, before the school sets the annual tax levy.

“This is step one of many,” Wilberg said.

Details of individual items within the project will begin to be investigated now through August to help finalize the bond amount.

Wildcat Wellness

A committee has been working on plans for a wellness promotion during the homecoming weekend in September. High school principal Cynthia Lacey said planning is underway for Wildcat Wellness, a chance for the community to bond during a 5K run/bike/walk, alumni basketball tournament and alumni volleyball tournament.

Funds from the event will help with purchases for updating the school’s weight room, which has a $40,000 wish list.

“The fitness room is for all students, not just the athletes,” Lacey said. “We want to promote healthy futures for all of our students.”

For those wishing to get involved in other ways, there are plenty of opportunities for volunteering at the events.

“We want to give alumni a reason to come back and stay the whole weekend,” Lacey said.

More information about the event will be released later this summer. Contact Lacey with any questions. A GoFundMe page is being set up for monetary donations for the weight room.

Coaching Salaries

The school board unanimously voted to change the pay scale for the coaching staff salaries to be more consistent and save the school money. District administrator John Costello said most current coaches will receive an increase of $200 to $400. Some sports’ coaches are paid more because of a higher liability involved in the sport, high contact versus no contact.

“We’re getting closer to where other schools are paying,” Costello said.

Administrative Reports

- Custom Canines plans to have a therapeutic dog in the third grade classroom this year. Southwestern teacher Denise Brania is a handler for the dog. The school board will look at possible policies for the dog.

- The board approved the junior prom to be held at Thums Up Pub & Grill in Kieler. The venue is free and is located within the school district. Additional adult chaperones will monitor the entrance between the bar and the dance hall.

- The graduation ceremony date and time will be discussed further this summer. A proposal to change the event from Friday to Sunday of Memorial Day weekend was due to students having a difficult time making it back in time for the ceremony after sporting events on Friday. Some board members wanted to keep the Friday night tradition, but change the time.

- Costello talked about the possibility of sharing a special education director with Blackhawk and Juda school districts next year, allowing more time for elementary principal Jennifer Gallagher who currently also serves as Southwestern’s special education director.

- Holy Ghost-Immaculate Conception has requested transportation for a mid-day 4K class for 2017. Per state statute, Southwestern School has to provide transportation for the parochial school, even though Southwestern does not currently have a mid-day route for its own students.