Ellsworth School Board prepares for Nov. 4 referendumThe Tuesday, Nov. 4, referendum dominated the Ellsworth School Board meeting Monday.
School board prepares for Nov. 4 referendum
By Bill Kirk
The Tuesday, Nov. 4, referendum dominated the Ellsworth School Board meeting Monday.
Superintendent Barry Cain shared with board members a power point presentation about the referendum he’s been making to various area groups. He estimated his prepared talk has run around 15 minutes, but the overall discussions have lasted longer due to questions from audiences.
Cain said he begins by telling why the success of the referendum is important and how approval would affect district taxpayers. He summarized the first question as asking for borrowing authority not to exceed $2 million to address maintenance needs. He showed a list of these needs, ranging from high school roof to upgrade of a boiler, but emphasized it’s “not a hard and fast list.”
The rationale behind seeking approval for these improvements now includes they could cost more in the future and their life expectancy has been exceeded or they’re at the point of causing safety concerns, he said. The district’s future needs are also a consideration.
Responding to a question Monday about whether budgeting for these items could have been done in the past, he said most are large-ticket items for which budgeting would have been difficult and reminding of the budget cuts which have had to be made. He emphasized the items have certainly been identified in the past, however.
The second referendum question asks for a $900,000 levy override yearly through 2013, the superintendent said. Since 2001, the district has been authorized to exceed the levy cap by $250,000 annually, but that authority ends after this school year.
The $900,000 figure was determined after examining inflationary costs and realizing that, if it were any lower, the district would almost immediately go into deficit spending, he said. The levy override, if approved, would help with efforts such as keeping class sizes as they are at present, maintaining existing school programs and continuing the progress made with interventions, for example. On the last point, he indicated pleasure with the positive results seen from targeting students at risk of failing and reversing that direction in many cases.
Approval of the question would be in the interest of planning for the future, he said, including developing curriculum that would meet today’s needs for students.
Cain discussed understanding the impact of the referendum on taxpayers. He presented figures indicating what the owner of a $100,000 home would pay in school taxes if there’s approval, comparing that with what the amount would be should the proposal be rejected, and following a trend in mill rates over time. He also referred to a comparison of existing mill rates in school districts throughout Pierce County, with Ellsworth’s being the lowest.
Answering a question Monday about the local district’s property valuation declining, he said not only have the projections used for his presentation been conservative, but the latest information has the Ellsworth district’s overall property value actually increasing by 3.52 percent. Yet, there’s potential for a decrease, although that could lead to an increase in state aids.
While reviewing the referendum’s benefits, he mentioned the local elementary schools stand to gain as well, with their priority being a modernization issue, not a space issue.
Read more in the print version of the Herald Oct. 15.