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District sees an increase in taxes, as aid goes down

Cornell School Annual Meeting/Board Meeting

By Ginna Young

It was up to the electors to run the annual Cornell School meeting Oct. 26, where superintendent Paul Schley reported on the district’s finances. Last year, the district saw $5,598,751.57 in revenues, with $5,653,726.15 in expenditures.

Despite what appears on paper to be a deficit, the district had transferred money out of the general fund to a separate fund, which accounted for the “red” numbers.

“So, we ended the year in the black, actually, by several hundred thousand dollars,” said Schley. “It was a good year.”

Unfortunately for the district, state aid is down, which is part of the reason taxes are up. Therefore, the 2020-21 tax levy is set at $1,365,081, a 12.47 percent increase from last year.

Overall, expenditures for 2020-21, should be $53,000 less, but revenue will only see an $8,000 increase.

“Not very good, when you consider over a year’s time, things went up, more than $8,000,” said Schley.

As a result, the district’s mill rate is 6.74, per $1,000 of assessed property, up from last year’s mill rate of 6.18, which could still be the lowest in the area.

“We had a few years, where we were going down, down, down, in mill rate and total dollar amount,” said Schley.

As part of business at the meeting, the board salary was discussed. Currently, members get $170 per meeting. Payments can be made either by an annual payment or per meeting compensation.

The payments cannot be combined, where members get a base salary, as well as additional compensation for nonregular meetings.

“You can’t have both…that’s against the law,” said Schley.

District resident Allison Spegal motioned to pay members $180 per meeting, which passed with seven in favor and three opposed.

Moving on to the regular board meeting that followed, principal Dave Elliott said the district is still working on what to do for its Veterans Day program.

“It’s always been a big day for me,” said Elliott.

He says they are trying to figure out how to make the day special for people in the community who mean so much to the school, but in a safe and applicable way. Elliott said he is sure it is not going to work having older veterans come in-person to the school, who may be more susceptible to sickness.

The program will probably be a virtual affair, but Elliott said they need to figure out how make it available to those who may not be “online.”

When speaking of virtual, Elliott has also continued to work with staff about planning for the need to go virtual for a couple weeks, and still provide students with hands-on learning, even in such areas as tech ed.

“We’re not stuck, we’re moving forward,” said Elliott. “We hope it (all virtual learning) doesn’t happen, we’re going to try to do our best.”

So far, although there have been positive cases, as well as numbers of those who needed to quarantine from exposure to positive people, the district hasn’t had any positive cases with a student.

Schley said as long as they have the staff to maintain inperson teaching, the district will remain open.

“I think that’s best for kids, I think that’s best for families,” said Schley, adding that positive cases are coming outside of school, with no exposure within the schools. “I can’t rule people’s home lives.”

Something that will help the district this year, is a $5,000 grant from Northwestern Bank that the school applied for, and received, which will be used for homeless students. If the district has students who are considered homeless, and who need clothes and school supplies, that money will help provide those things.

One instance could be if a student’s house burns down and they temporarily move out of the district to stay with family, but still attend Cornell. If they have the intention of moving back, a gas card can be gifted to the family to help with transportation expenses because of that.

“This is to help with those types of situations,” said Schley. “It helps those who aren’t very fortunate – and things happen.”

Schley also reported that lead custodian Trevis Thompson is the recipient of the Wisconsin Small Rural Schools Association Support Staff Person of the Year. Thompson, acting as lead maintenance person, saves the district money in a variety of ways and teaches agriculture classes in addition to his many duties.

“So, that’s a big deal for the state of Wisconsin,” said Schley. “He’s very deserving.”

Also hailed at the meeting, was board vice president Jamie Close, who received Level 1 recognition at the recent virtual Wisconsin School Board Association Regional meeting. Close met the Level 1 requirements for his attendance at meetings and trainings.

Board clerk Eileen Sikora had news of her own, as she reported that she was invited to join the Herb Kohl Scholarship Committee, to read the many applications that come in from students across the state and help decide who to award money to.

“Thank you for doing that, that’s great,” said Schley.

During their business portion of the regular meeting, members approved the retirement at the end of the school year of first-grade teacher Sandy Amdahl; set the 2021-22 school calendar; and updated graduation requirements.