Ellsworth levy override, facility referendum examined
The Tuesday, Feb. 18, referendum election about overriding the state-imposed revenue limit and facilities development on a local campus, including construction of a new elementary school, was examined at a special meeting of the Ellsworth School Board Wednesday.
The meeting audience filled a good share of the seating in the high school cafetorium, and their applause several times as well as the tone of their questions and comments suggested most were receptive to what they heard. Stations staffed by the facilities architect and construction manager, school board and ad hoc facilities committee members, the transportation supervisor and Superintendent Barry Cain, some accompanied by visual displays, were positioned around the room.
Cain offered a presentation on the two referendum questions at this, the third and final of the special meetings, he said. Questions generated from the previous two gatherings, at Hillcrest and Prairie View elementary schools, and since were to be addressed, he added.
One inquiry regarded whether the two referendum questions are linked. He said they’re separate, meaning one scenario could have the facilities proposal approved by district voters and the override plan rejected, in which case extensive cuts would be necessary.
Later, responding to an audience member, the superintendent came up with some possible cuts to make up the $800,000 prescribed in the override referendum (the proposal is to exceed the limit by that amount each year for three years beginning with 2014-15) if it fails, such as staff reductions, dropping the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program at Hillcrest, making special education efficiencies, co-curricular adjustments, relying on athletic and parking fees, eliminating bus purchases, curtailing maintenance, addressing student insurance, reworking technology plans and focusing on health insurance.
Compounding the challenge would be issues like hiring another fifth grade teacher as a possible necessity, he said. Even if it passes, about $400,000 in cuts are expected to have to be made in the third year anyway.
Meantime, if the facilities referendum was to fail, he envisioned reconvening the ad hoc facilities committee to find a different approach.
“Obviously, the needs aren’t going to go away,” he said.
The tax impact of a successful override referendum has been placed at $13 ($1.08 per month) on a $100,000 home for the 2014-15 school year and of a successful facilities referendum as an increase of $119 ($9.92 per month) on a $100,000 home. Cain told the audience the total cost to the owner of a $100,000 home would be $160 in the event both referendum questions are passed, reflecting approximately $90 on the levy override and $70.72 on the facilities, which will be financed over 20 years.
He compared the project aspect to having a mortgage on a home.
Another inquiry was about why the district should proceed with the facilities upgrades now, he said. His answer: the needs are there, the present debt for the district will be done in two years, interest rates are low today and construction inflation is rising by approximately five percent annually.
For more please read the Feb. 5 print version of the Herald.