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Hartland-Lakeside residents face referendum

Voters will decide on $930,000 referendum on Feb. 21

Feb. 13, 2012

Hartland-Lakeside School District officials will have to make some tough choices about programs offered in its schools if voters do not pass a $930,000 referendum on the Feb. 21 ballot.

At stake, according to the district, are a number of programs the district currently funds, including electives courses, fine arts programs, instructional support staff, student transportation and technology. District Superintendent Glenn Schilling noted that these programs were merely on the table for cuts should the referendum fail, but all would not necessarily be in jeopardy.

He said the district would also have to consider other options, such as increased class sizes and higher case loads for special education staff. Currently, the district's ideal class size ranges from 20-25 students in elementary schools, and 25-30 students at the middle school.

On the flip side, Schilling said, a successful referendum would allow the district to maintain services and programming, move forward with improvement projects, maintain enrollment, attract families to the area and expand innovative classrooms.

He also argued that it would allow the district to continue to capitalize on what has been a strong emerging sense of collaboration between teachers, administration and the School Board within the past year as the district has looked to tighten its belt.

Why the need?

The district is seeking the $930,000 to offset the roughly $680,000 in expected revenue loss from the state this year and an additional $250,000 for what the district said is normal inflation, increased insurance costs and utilities increases.

If the referendum passes, district property owners will pay an additional $17 per $100,000 of assessed value. Thus, the owner of a home in the Hartland-Lakeside School District valued at $250,000 would pay an extra $42.50 per year. The owner of a home valued at $350,000 would pay an extra $59.50.

"We're not looking at expanding, adding things on," Schilling explained at an informational referendum meeting last week. "We're looking at maintaining the quality of service and initiatives of the district."

Continuing, the superintendent said, "We cut $1.2 million (last year), and the state gave us the tools to do that, but we only came up with $900,000. We had budgeted efficiently the year before, so we were able to balance the budget without losing any services to our children. We can't do that moving forward."

The district trimmed the $900,000 from its budget by changing employee health insurance carriers - a move that saved some $700,000 - and through various other efficiencies and reductions in benefits.

Saving more money

At the Feb. 8 informational meeting, the superintendent also pointed out that even if the referendum passes, the district will seek other cuts. For example, he said, the district will not replace its curriculum coordinator position when that person retires, and it has plans to implement further benefits changes.

Schilling also expressed a desire to set aside money in a fund earmarked for ongoing maintenance projects.

Dubbed "Fund 41," district contributions to the fund would be saved for future capital improvement costs such as roof replacements, boilers and parking lot repairs.

Schilling noted that the district receives less money in state aid now than it did in 2005, but that the tax rate has remained relatively flat, with the exception of the 2008-09 school year.

"That is the year that, when Gov. (Jim) Doyle was in office, he cut our aid by this much, and that aid was transferred on to the property tax," Schilling said, pointing to a graph at the informational meeting. "We did not get this huge increase. Our aid went down and property tax went up. So people said, 'whoa, my taxes are going up.' Well we didn't get any more money. It was just a transfer. And from there property taxes went down and aid went down at the same time."

Asked about opposition to the looming referendum, Schilling said, "I talked to a couple people … and they are just reluctant to raise taxes at any point. And anything that's any increase, anything above zero, is something that they're concerned about.

"People say, 'well, this isn't the time.' Well … as long as I've been in administration and schools, even when the economy was great, I've never heard anyone say 'Hey, this is the time. The economy is good. Let's add money.' "

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