District to pass cost savings to taxpayers, reduce fund balance
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
When School District of Rhinelander taxpayers go to the polls in November to vote for Governor and a number of other races, they will also be asked to authorize the district to exceed revenue limits by $4.25 million per year for four years, beginning with the 2019-20 school year.
The SDR board approved the timing and the amount at a special meeting Monday. They will vote on referendum language at the August meeting. The school board and administration have been able to decrease the district’s costs and increase the fund balance, according to Director of Business Services Marta Kwiatkowski, thereby allowing the district to ask for less per year than taxpayers are currently funding. Reduced health insurance costs and an energy exemption boost to the budget are the main reasons for the increased fund balance.
“Two things happened,” Kwiatkowski said. “You have the $492,000…from the energy exemption…that we didn’t know years ago that was going to happen, and also health insurance. Health insurance is over $5 million and the average increase is 9 to 12 percent and we’re seeing zero or negative and those cost savings go into the fund balance.”
The upcoming 2018-19 school year is the final year of the current three-year, $5 million per year referendum passed by voters in February 2016.
Recent changes in state law regarding how often and when a school district can go to referendum have pushed the administration to bring the issue to board members sooner rather than later.
“We cannot hold a referendum during odd years in November,” Superintendent Kelli Jacobi said. “If there isn’t a regularly scheduled election, we can’t hold a referendum, so that really impacts when we (can). If we were to wait until next spring, we wouldn’t have a back-up plan if it didn’t go well.”
This way, if a November vote were to fail, the administration could have a second go at it in the spring election.
“Many districts are going to the four-year cycle instead of the three so they’ve got that two-shot,” Jacobi noted.
Based on several assumptions that the administration used to determine referendum amounts, including steady enrollment, an increasing revenue limit in 2021-22 and 2022-23 and health insurance, staff salary, pupil travel and utilities all at slight increases, Jacobi and Kwiatkowski recommended asking for $4 million or $4.5 million per year for four years.
After discussion, board member David Holperin motioned that the referendum be set “right in the middle,” at $4.25 million for four years. The motion passed 5-2 with Judy Conlin and Dennis O’Brien voting against the majority, both saying they preferred $4.5 million.