Referendum Questions and Answers
The following questions and answers will also appear in a
mailing to all Howard and Suamico residents in January 2018.
Why does the District have financial challenges?
In Wisconsin, public school districts are subject to a revenue limit that restricts the amount of money that districts can receive from state aid and local property taxes. Revenue limits are determined by the state budget. The revenue limit of the Howard-Suamico School District is $9,250 per student, which is more than $300 below De Pere’s limit and nearly $350 per student below Ashwaubenon’s limit.
What is a revenue limit?
Revenue limits are state-imposed controls on the amount of money a Wisconsin district can receive in state aid and local property taxes. Revenue limits were established in 1993 by state policymakers as a means of controlling property taxes.
Didn’t voters just reject a plan to address the District’s needs?
In April 2017, voters were presented with a referendum question that, if passed, would have authorized the board of education to override the state-imposed revenue limit on a recurring basis. After the results were announced, some residents asked, “Now what?” The simple answer is that the needs of our schools will not go away. Therefore, we had to come up with a solution that meets the needs of our students and community. The situation is urgent, and so this work has already begun. Subsequent to the April 2017 referendum results, the community response survey offered two key findings: do not place a recurring referendum on the ballot; and greater clarity on why an operational referendum is necessary and how the funds will be used.
Why didn’t the District work to address its operational needs before constructing new facilities like the District Office?
Planning for the District Office began over 10 years ago with non-referendum funds being accumulated and designated to finance construction. When the new building opened in May 2015 at a debt-free cost of $3.8 million, Lineville and Forest Glen students and staff were now able to utilize an additional 7,425 square feet of instructional space. Shortly thereafter, operational needs were significantly impacted when the 2015-17 state budget froze the District revenue limit.
Can HSSD afford to maintain unlimited open enrollment?
Open enrollment has been limited at grades 5-8 for the 2017-2018 school year and in individual elementary grade levels on a case-by-case basis. A detailed review of our open enrollment policy is underway to help us better understand the impacts of the program on HSSD. The Board of Education is scheduled to act on an open enrollment recommendation at its January 29, 2018 meeting.
What about the state budget that was recently signed into law?
Simply put, the recently signed state budget does not provide the level of revenue needed by the District and does not address the growing funding gap between HSSD and other neighboring districts. The additional categorical aid provided in the state budget was used to restore a portion of the support staff and department budget cuts enacted following the April 2017 referendum result.
How has the District used the tools provided by Act 10?
The district has used the flexibility provided under Act 10 to reduce its post-retirement benefit liability by 60 percent, reduce costs for health insurance and pursue other cost-saving measures by asking more from its staff members. Moreover, the district has aggressively sought new grants, reduced energy consumption and pursued other efforts to squeeze the most from every dollar that taxpayers contribute to our district.
Last year the request was for $4 million annually. Why is the new referendum question increased to $5.85 million annually?
The referendum funds will be used, in part, to restore a portion of the staffing cuts made after the April 2017 referendum result. Also, the shortened time frame of five years for the referendum request allows for a more accurate projection of operational needs. It is important to note that despite an increase in the amount requested, the impact of the referendum will be property tax neutral. This is due to the Board's ongoing commitment to debt reduction and the increase in property valuation throughout Howard and Suamico.
Why not cut other costs?
The Board continues to seek new ways to economize. The Howard-Suamico School District is already a low-spending district. The District can no longer address its challenges by cutting expenses alone. General fund revenue has increased only $99,881 (0.2 percent) in the seven-year span from 2010-11 to 2017-18 while enrollment has grown by 396 students (6.9 percent). During the same time span, the District has reduced staff, cut costs, and decreased future liabilities by more than $50 million, including cuts and cost avoidance of $7.5 million over the last 18 months alone.
What will happen if the District’s financial needs are not met?
If the community does not support this solution, limitations to programs and services will continue.
How would the referendum funds be used?
Approximately half of the referendum funds would be used to hire 30 classroom teachers phased in over two years in order to reduce class sizes in grades K-12 across the District. A little over a quarter of the funds would be used to enhance staff compensation and close the gap with neighboring districts. The remainder of the funds would be used to address facility maintenance needs identified in the recent master facilities study.
If the HSSD tax levy has been flat the last three years, why does my property tax bill show an increase?
According to year-over-year analysis of tax bills for both Howard and Suamico properties that was verified by the Local Government Services Bureau, the increase on residents’ property tax bill attributed to HSSD is a result of an increase in home estimated fair market value.
Will there be public meetings to ask questions and learn more information?
Yes. In addition to prior meetings in November and December, future public meetings with Board of Education and Community Task Force members in February and March will be announced at a later date.
How can the district ask for an additional $5.85 million annually without property taxes going up?
Each year the HSSD tax levy is comprised of funds for District operations and debt. The Board of Education has maintained a commitment to aggressive debt retirement. Starting in 2019, District debt payments are scheduled to decrease significantly.
Please see the projections provided by third party analyst PMA in the chart below. If you look at the top of the 2018 and 2019 columns, you see the debt (in blue) drop significantly from one year to the next. The referendum funds (green) added to the lesser remaining debt payments would equal a stable tax levy, no increase, for residents.
The following questions and answers are an excerpt from the Community Task Force meetings in September 2017 and were taken from individual Task Force members as well as from the post-April 2017 referendum community survey.
1. Wisconsin State biennium budget update:
The main outcome impacting HSSD from the 2017-2019 State Budget is the Governor’s veto of the low revenue ceiling adjustment that was advanced by both the Assembly and Senate versions of the budget bill. Although this measure alone would not have solved HSSD’s revenue challenges, it represented a legislative acknowledgement of the current inequities in school funding - and would have been a major step in the right direction. Financially, had this measure not been vetoed by the Governor, it would have allowed HSSD to receive approximately $275,000 more in this current budget year and approximately $825,000 the following. It is important to note that this base revenue limit adjustment would have been funded by the local property tax levy had the provision survived the line-item veto process.
2a. How did the failed April 2017 referendum affect programs, personnel,
Significant reductions were made in both staffing and student programming to
offset increased costs in non-negotiable expenditure areas. The related cuts
are detailed to the right:
2b. What is the discrepancy between the budget and current funding?
Because the Board cannot approve a deficit budget, administration addressed
the projected discrepancy last April. That is, after the first referendum attempt
was not approved by voters, staffing and program cuts, and cost avoidance
through deferred facility maintenance, were the means used to balance
revenues and expenditures.
2c. What type of adjustments would the district need to make if funding
is not secured?
If flexibility to obtain increased revenue is not secured, the District will likely
re-engage in a process resulting in further staffing and program cuts
(i.e. see 2a above for examples of recent cuts). This will negatively impact
student offerings, especially at the middle and high school levels, and will
increase class sizes at all levels K-12. The District may also defer annual
maintenance for the third straight year, as well as delaying planned facilities
3. What has HSSD done to temper the effects and impact of the
longstanding revenue limits? What are examples of revenue generation
efforts, cost avoidance, and cuts?
Over time, a number of proactive initiatives aimed at decreasing costs and
increasing revenues have been implemented to temper the impact of revenue
limits and HSSD’s resulting relative funding gap.
These include, but are not limited to, the following:
● Lobbying legislators and advocating for revenue limit relief (i.e multiple legislator meetings, trips to Madison, testifying at Joint Finance Hearings, aligning with Chamber of Commerce partners; sending letters, drafting WASB resolutions, etc.);
Creating a video titled “Bridging the Gap” in 2010-11 to help the community understand
the forthcoming challenges;
● Marketing and promoting our community and District to attract new families (i.e. State aid is based on membership. More members equates to more revenue. Open enrollment students are not counted in membership calculations)
● Implementing 4-year old kindergarten to increase membership and improve educational outcomes;
● Expanding summer school offerings to attract and keep students in our District;
● Raising fees for clinics, supplies and sports;
● Competitive bidding of health insurance to constrain or reduce associated costs;
● Selling obsolete property and land;
● Refinancing debt;
● Increasing class sizes to limit additional new FTEs;
● Capping aide hours and reducing summer secretarial time for cost avoidance of benefits/salary;
● Freezing and eventually reducing, building and department budgets to divert resources to innovative programming;
● Hiring a part-time Wellness Coordinator to implement programs aimed at improving population health and reducing costs associated with doctor visits and prescriptions;
● Incenting wellness through Health Risk Assessments for employees/spouses to identify serious health conditions earlier, resulting in lower insurance premiums;
● Building an onsite Health and Wellness Clinic in partnership with Bellin to provide medical care for those under the District’s insurance plan; thus improving overall health and reducing costs associated with absenteeism and chronic conditions;
Forming an employee compensation committee to leverage employee input and strategies.
● Employing a part-time Volunteer and Community Involvement Coordinator to recruit helpers and engage the community in support of its teachers, students and schools;
● Contracting a part-time grant writer for select projects (e.g., more than $200,000 awarded in last five years);
● Initiating energy reduction initiatives resulting in ~$100,000 annual cost avoidance;
● Promoting five referendum campaigns for capital improvements. The two campaigns that succeeded resulted in more than $30 million in facility upgrades;
● Launching a $3.5 million capital campaign, Upward Together, targeting monies for staff training, student leadership, and facility/equipment improvements. To date, more than $2.5 million has been raised in cash gifts and grants;
● Creating an alumni and fan association, Pirate Nation. To date, thousands have signed up and more than $40,000 has been raised in online giving;
● Bolstering the engagement and capacity of the Howard-Suamico School District Education Foundation (e.g., annual grant contributions to staff and students average between$25,000-40,000);
● Engaging business partners on tours and special projects to help generate awareness and thereby change the narrative from education being viewed as an expense to education being embraced as an investment;
● Collaborating with village administrators to encourage residential construction; this has a positive impact on both the local economy and the school system by increasing membership numbers;
● Multiple presentations to community, civic, political, and business groups on the importance of investing in public education;
● Restructured post-employment retirement benefit for certified staff, thereby reducing long-term liability from $58.9 million to $18 million;
● Staff and program reductions following April 2017 referendum result totaling $3 million;
● Administrative team salary freeze for 2018-19 following April 2017 referendum result.
4. How does HSSD teacher pay compare to local and similar-sized Districts?
Analysis of average salary relative to years of experience will be considered in more detail as part of the Task Force Meeting 2 presentation. The following data is from independent third-party source Forecast 5 (based on 2016 data):
5. Does the state and/or local taxes provide funding for 4K?
Yes. The state allows districts to receive revenue for 4K students. These students are considered as .60 full time equivalent (FTE) in the membership count portion of the revenue limit formula. At HSSD, we contract with several community-based partner sites to offer 4K. We receive revenue by way of these students’ inclusion into the revenue formula and we pay a flat fee per student via a contract with the 4K sites.
6. Are we involved in any advocacy or lobbying at the state level to affect change in the funding formula?
Yes. This is an annual Board goal. The major outcome of last year’s lobbying efforts was the successful inclusion of the low-revenue adjustment in the
2017-19 State budget proposal that was line-item vetoed by the Governor.
7. Please share more detail on HSSD Open Enrollment history and current policy.
Open Enrollment represents the difference between Enrollment and Membership, as shown below. Following the April 2017 referendum outcome, a major policy change went into effect for this school year and beyond: the District declared a moratorium on Open Enrollment at Grades 5-8, and at select high school grade levels. Furthermore, the issue is being studied for potential further policy modifications in subsequent years.