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I-S revises referendum

School administrators cite old buses, leaky roof, cuts in state aid

By Jane Myhra

Iola-Scandinavia School District taxpayers reviewed changes to a proposed operating referendum during two community meetings on June 5-6.

Also, a summary of plans for the original $2 million debt question for capital projects was presented.

The proposed referendum is asking taxpayers to approve new debt for capital projects and maintenance needs that have been postponed due to budget reductions. Debt payments for principal would be structured to begin when current debt expires in 2020.

From the $2 million, 24 percent will be used for remodeling or repairs, including roof repairs, parking lot work, and a new boiler system for the elementary school.

“We have roofs leaking in our high school building,” said District Administrator David Dyb. “The elementary school boiler was installed in 1964 and it isn’t energy efficient.”

After hearing input at a previous public meeting, the I-S School Board wants to increase the amount of the “step-up” operating referendum to further address the district’s budget deficits and maintain student learning opportunities.

“These are not frivolous extra things – they need to be done,” Dyb said. “Most districts our size are asking for more. We are sitting in a very good spot: We don’t need new buildings, they just need some major maintenance.”

Dyb noted that the district’s last referendum was in 1999.

“We are looking at some difficult budget deficits in the next few years,” said Business Manager Sarah Thiel.

She identified factors contributing to the budgeted shortfalls to include revenue limits, declining state aid, declining enrollment and the state’s funding formula not keeping up with the rate of inflation.

Without the referendums, the projected deficit is nearly $461,600 for 2016-17 and is projected to continue increasing into the future.

Thiel said the school board has made substantial budget cuts in the last few years, which included zero-based budgeting for classrooms, reductions in technology and maintenance spending and reducing staff by not replacing retired teachers. Other savings have included no increase in health insurance premiums and implementing energy efficiency projects to save costs.

“A $460,000 cut in the budget would have a significant impact on the education we provide to our students,” Thiel said.

The next step is to present the referendum language to the school board at its July 11 meeting. If approved, the two referendum questions will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The meeting allowed for questions from the audience. One attendee was concerned why only a few were used in the conference spending comparison chart.

“We could add the other 13 (public) schools in the conference and we would still be in the middle,” Dyb said.

He also noted that the I-S School District’s spending includes the I-S Community Fitness and Aquatic Center.

Another attendee asked why the district doesn’t charge student fees for extra-curricular activities.

“We talked about that,” Thiel said. “The fees would only be a drop in the bucket and it could discourage participation.

One person asked why the district didn’t have a maintenance fund. Thiel explained that the capital maintenance fund has dried up since Act 10.

“We have a fund balance for significant emergencies, but it isn’t enough to replace a boiler,” Thiel said. “Once we dip into it, then we would need to begin short-term borrowing.”

She explained that revenue restrictions make it almost impossible to rebuild the fund balance.

“You don’t want to eat your seed corn,” Dyb said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Another person wondered why the district needs to purchase four buses by 2019 and why the district needs 12 buses when it only has six bus routes.

“Some of our buses are getting pretty aged,” Dyb said.

“Our bus replacements have been pushed off to help the budget, keep small class sizes and maintain staff,” said Mark Sether, who serves on the district’s Finance Committee.

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