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By Joe Block 

Wisconsin Heights School District proposes 5-year referendum

$2.2 million a year is less than last referendum


December 20, 2018

At their meeting Monday, December 10, the Wisconsin Heights school board reviewed information for the upcoming 5-year operational referendum.

The district is asking for a 5-year operational referendum in the spring, different from the previous 2-year cycle. District administrator Jordan Sinz explained why:

“Community feedback from the past year and a half indicates that community members are interested in exploring options for ensuring that our facility operations maximize efficiency. To fully study our facility operations, and therefore options, the district needs more than one year of time to engage our community and staff in this process. If we were to utilize another two-year operational referendum question, it would severely limit our available options for facility planning and solutions.”

He added:

“[There are] [a]dministrative and election-related costs. Going to a referendum is a very challenging process. It is a challenge that requires many staff members to commit time to researching, planning, and information dissemination. Ultimately this is time that is not spent on exploring options for improving the educational outcomes of our students. As a school district we strive for continuous improvement for student outcomes, and the more time we can invest in the endeavor helps us meet this goal. Also, there are election-related costs (ballots, legal documents, etc.) that must be incurred to place a referendum on the ballot. To not engage in this process every two years will allow for these monies to be utilized in other ways.”

The district is proposing a 5-year total of $11 million, which is based on $2.2 million per year. For comparison, the district’s previous referendum requests break down in the following way:

2009-10, $575,000

2010-11, $275,000

2011-12, $175,000

2012-13, $675,000

2013-14, $725,000

2014-15, $1,150,000

2015-16, $1,425,000

2016-17, $1,825,000

2017-18, $1,883,767

2018-19, $2,227,435

2019-2024= $2,200,000 per year (proposed)

Notably, the proposed referendum will result in a drop in the district’s mill rate, from $11.50 in 2018 to $10.18 in 2024. Sinz explains why:

“This is primarily due to two factors: the increasing property value in the district and the annual referendum amount we are seeking will be slightly less than what was approved for 2018-19. The 2018-19 operational referendum was approved for $2,227,435. We are seeking $2,200,000 annually from 2019-20 through 2023-24. This is the first time the annual amount being sought has declined since 2011-11.”

The district’s request is based on several conservative assumptions. They include:

No additional aid per student per year ($630 currently)

Regular and special ed open enrollment payments will remain the same., along with a stable open enrollment ratio.

Stable student enrollment for the next 5 years.

Equalized value growth of 3% per year.

Revenues expected to stay the same.

Salaries to increase 2.2% each year.

Health insurance costs projected to increase 3% each year, 2% for dental.

Utilities expected to increase 2% per year.

The capital project fund expected to be steady at $400,000 per year.

An initial 8% increase for contracted transportation (a new contract starts in 2019-20), with 3% annual increases following each year.

The district faces some challenges due to where it is. Sinz explained that the district is “property-rich”, meaning:

“Given our enrollment and property values, we are viewed as property rich in the school funding formula. To be more specific, our total property value in the district is assessed at $708,592,164. When you divide this number by our student enrollment, you arrive at an equalized property value of $904,971 per student. This per student equalized value results in us being considered as “property rich” when it comes to the state funding formula. When you are considered property rich, it results in less funding from the state and more of your school funding coming from local revenue sources.”

Revenue comes from 5 areas: the tax levy, equalization aid from the state, per-pupil categorical aid, open enrollment base fees, and a final “other” category. A 6-year analysis of these funding categories shows the following changes:

Tax levy: increasing from $7.8 million to $8.9 million

Equalization aid: decreasing from $1.8 million to $800,000

Per-pupil: decreasing from $511,000 to $486,000

Open enrollment: increase from $400,000 to $447,000

“Other”: increasing from $673,000 to $1.1 million

Overall funding is projected to increase by $500,000 over the next 6 years. The difference between expected revenue and costs is equal to the $2.2 million per year the district is seeking in the operational referendum.

The Future Search this spring and School Perceptions survey that was sent out recently shows that residents of the district wants to recruit and retain staff, a desire to not cut programs, and the desire to provide a “top-notch” education. The district feels all of these desires by the community necessitate the operational referendum amount.

The stability of a 5-year operational referendum also provides time for the district to examine a facilities referendum in the future.

State accountability reports

Every year the state produces accountability reports, grading the individual schools and district based on test data. The report cards are broken down into five categories: student achievement, district growth, closing gaps (in educational attainment), and on-track and post-secondary readiness.

Overall, the district received a grade of 76/100, or exceeds expectations. It scored the following in individual categories:

Student achievement: 73.7/100, compared to 63/100 for the state average

District growth: 65.1/100, compared to 66/100 for the state

Closing gaps: 74.7/100, compared to 67.9 for the state

On-track and post-secondary readiness: 89.6/100, compared to 85 for the state

Compared to Dane County schools, Wisconsin Heights ranks 6th out of 16. To provide context for that data, Wisconsin Heights ranks 6th in terms of economically disadvantaged students. Scott Moore, director of assessment and principal of Black Earth Elementary, explained that schools with a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students tend to score lower, and vice versa. Wisconsin Heights did not follow this pattern: it remained in the same spot for both sets of data. This means the district does not see a significant drop off in test scores compared to other districts in and due to economically disadvantaged students.

Maintenance and IT reports

Bill Sullivan, maintenance director, and Scott Wichser, IT director, provided updates. As for maintenance, door hardware has been upgraded across the district, with signage improvement to follow soon. Wischer reported that the district will soon be implementing a district-wide radio system, with dedicate all-district channels for emergencies, and communication within and between schools. Computer hardware is seeing upgrades, with significant improvements with the installation of SSD drives. The district has changed over to a single sign-on system, so students will not have to use and remember multiple login and passwords. Staff are beginning to use class website opportunities, and 5 new video cameras for classroom use and in service.

School safety plans and drills

Per 2017 Wisconsin Act 143, each district must have and practice school safety drills. Each school has participated in one. The district uses the ALICE program, and elementary students were given “I’m not scared, I’m prepared because I know about ALICE” books to prepare them for the drills. Each principal felt their schools performed well in the practice drills.


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