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Aging buildings, budget shortfalls behind Palmyra-Eagle school referendum

Aging buildings, budget shortfalls push referendum

Oct. 23, 2012

After nearly two years of studying district needs and a comprehensive facilities study in 2010, the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District (PEASD) readies for two referendum questions Nov. 6 asking for more funds. The money would enable the district to maintain programs and services as well as borrow for facilities projects.

An operational referendum will ask for $430,000 per year for four years, starting next school year.

A second referendum question will ask residents for permission to borrow for $6.45 million in facilities projects over a 20-year period, with technology upgrades repaid in five years.

Details about the two referendum questions are available onthe PEASD website, www.palmyra.k12.wi.us.

District Administrator Glenn Schlender said the district is trying to get information out to voters.

"We want people to get out and vote," said Schlender. "We have been working hard to get information out so people are well-informed."

Taxpayer impact

Estimates based on conservative interest rates provided by financial consultants show a homeowner with a $100,000 property would pay about $4.75 per month more or $57 per year of the four-year operational referendum. Homeowners with that same property value will pay about $1.84 per month more or $22 per year for 20 years to allow the district to borrow funds for facility improvements with the second referendum question.

District operations

Since 2006, PEASD has cut more than $2.6 million in services, programs, staff, as well as salary and benefit concessions in order to achieve balanced budgets. Shortfalls are expected to exceed $500,000 for each of the next four years, according to district estimates.

PEASD saw a 5.5-percent drop in state funding after Act 10, which has remained basically flat since then, according to Schlender. And while revenues are lower, expenses continue to rise. If the operational referendum fails, additional cuts could increase class sizes and reduce staffing, possibly leading to split-grade classrooms. Additionally, more student programs and services could also be cut.

Schlender said people often ask why the district can't be run like a business, but he explained that businesses raise prices when expenses increase faster than revenue. The school district can't raise revenue without getting permission from taxpayers.

PEASD is the lowest-paying district in the area for teacher salaries, raises and benefits, Schlender said. As a service provider, 70 percent of the district's expenses are in the form of staff expenses, leaving only a 30-percent margin for cutting before chopping into programs. Additionally, the district "is very concerned with maintaining a high-quality staff," Schlender said.

"We're looking at very real staff cuts if the referendum doesn't pass," Schlender added. "You can't keep cutting that 30 percent."

At the secondary level, that would mean reducing the number of elective courses offered. At the elementary level, classroom sizes would increase, he said.

Facilities

A Community Advisory Team (CAT) analyzed the results of a community survey at the end of 2011 and trimmed down about $11 million in basic building needs, not including technology, to a prioritized list of the most urgent needs for $6.45 million.

"They've done a very thorough job of prioritizing needs," said Schlender. "They are all needs, but these are the most critical needs."

Two factors - historically low interest rates and a still-competitive construction market - would allow the district to provide the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars.

Outdated and failing mechanical systems, poor drainage issues, and inefficient building systems such as roofs, heating, ventilation, windows, plumbing and lighting top the list of projects in the aging elementary schools.

Portions of Palmyra Elementary School are almost 60 years old, with the last major update done more than 26 years ago. The original portion of Eagle Elementary School, built in 1986, was not updated when the school expansion was built in 2003.

Only the middle and high school have seen any significant renovation in the last 25 years; however, a 1992 roof is failing, and outdated heating and ventilation systems need replacing.

If the facilities projects referendum fails, the district would be forced to address some larger capital repairs on an emergency basis, which could cost more in the long run.

Facility tours

Open house and school tours have been scheduled for the elementary schools. Residents can see Eagle Elementary during open house from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24.

A Palmyra Elementary open house is set for 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, and a school tour is available from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Oct. 24.

Residents can also take a virtual tour of the P-E schools at www.palmyra.k12.wi.us/referendum.cfm and see floor plans listing facility improvements at each school.

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