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Edgar passes deficit budget

School board will begin referendum discussion this month

The Edgar Board of Education last week Wednesday voted to approve a deficit 2020-21 budget and confirmed that starting next month it would begin a community conversation about floating a referendum to exceed revenue caps, possibly in February or April of 2021.

The district’s approved $8.23 million budget is technically balanced, but it will pay $80,000 of the coming school year’s bills out of its fund balance or checking account. The budget draws down the district’s general fund balance from $663,708 to $583,708.

In presenting the budget, district bookkeeper Morgan Mueller said the deficit is concerning, but better than was predicted earlier in the year.

She said spending was trimmed in nearly all areas--including a $55,000 cut to school maintenance--but a two percent wage hike for employees was preserved.

Mueller said the 2020-21 budget would be funded by a $2,506,422 tax levy, which is $46,874 or two percent lower than the current year. The district mil rate will fall, she said, by 51 cents to $10.30, the lowest in the past nine years.

The district’s financial squeeze is caused by enrollment-sensitive enrollment caps. According to the district’s revenue limit worksheet, Edgar Public School enrollment has been on a continual decline. Enrollment, including summer school participation, has tumbled from 572 in 2017 to 552 in 2020. The district’s three-year average enrollment has fallen this past year from 567 to 560.

With declining enrollment, Edgar School District must spend less and, after state aid, must also tax less. Mueller said a $243.3 million school tax base, three percent higher than last year, helped drive down the school tax rate.

Mueller said the district will receive more general state aid next year, but is predicted to lose $30,000 in sporting event admissions revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic and also $114,000 due to a drop in open enrollment students. The bookkeeper said the district would correct a special education billing error this year.

School board president Bill Dittman said the school’s general operations tax levy rate of $5.42 per thousand dollars of fair market property was nearly equal to the district’s debt tax rate of $4.37.

Mueller said the district’s tax rate will fall significantly when the district’s tax rate is paid off, but this won’t happen until 2024.

Board members said they would join a Monday, Nov. 9, 7 p.m. community forum to discuss a possible future revenue cap referendum.

In other board action:

_ School district math instructors led by Katie Haas described two years of effort working with the Wisconsin Mathematics Institute to improve curriculum. The teachers said the new emphasis in teaching math is to have students better learn and talk about math concepts and, with the concepts firmly understood, solving math problems in different ways. The teachers said this approach helps the greatest number of students because students all learn math in different ways. The Wisconsin Mathematics Institute has sent people to Edgar Public Schools to coach and collaborate with district teachers. The coaching is paid for through a grant.

Elementary school principal Lisa Witt said the intensive curriculum sessions with the institute have been “just phenomenal.”

Haas said the school district likely erred in years past in advancing students in math in order for them to take calculus in their senior year. She said a slower, more “numbers sense” approach better prepared these students for higher level math classes.

Board president Dittman asked about the use of calculators in math classes. He was told the use of calculators was not encouraged.

The board president said he was pleased. “I’ve accomplished something,” he said. “It’s all about learning, not just giving the answers.”

_ District head custodian Rob Rauen said his crew spent the summer disinfecting classrooms and the school fitness center, as well as bleaching gym floors to fight the coronavirus. He said classrooms received new ceiling tile and LED lights to save energy dollars. Rauen said that additional classrooms had asbestos tile removed, two sections of school roof were re-foamed and a short roof snorkel that caused a gym water leak was extended.

_ In a COVID-19 report, district administrator Dr. Cari Guden said teachers were putting in “a ton of time” to record and broadcast their in-class lessons to virtual students. She said the Edgar instruction was far beyond what some other districts are doing.

Guden said it has been difficult to staff the school during the pandemic and that the district has been lucky to have three long-term substitute teachers.

School principals, who are in charge of contract tracing, said the school has had an average year of student sickness, but, given the need to quarantine both people who have COVID-19 nd those who have been in close contact with those people, there has been a large number of student absences.

They reported a sizeable number of students taking virtual instruction: 15 long-term and 18 short-term elementary school students; 15 long-term and 21 short-term middle school students; and 32 long-term and 16 short-term high school students.

Guden reported all school lunches are free to students and would be for the remainder of the school year. She said eight to 10 families pick up school lunches in a to-go box for virtual students.

The administrator said the district started the school year with five double bus routes but has reduced that to three. She said the district would use a $3,500 grant for US Cellular “hot spots” to help virtual students get a better internet signal. Principal Tom McCarty said spectators at sporting events have followed social distancing and mask wearing rules without incident. Both he and Witt praised students for wearing masks. “They have been incredible,” said principal Witt.

_ Board members approved the resignation of night custodian Ben Lepak. Administrator Guden said no one has applied to fill the open position.

_ Board members approved a list of winter coaches. By sport, they are: Boys basketball: head coach Dave Huss, JV coaches Tom Bauman and Mike Mroczenski; eighth grade coach Keith Baumgartner, seventh grade coach Mitch Skurzewski, six grade coach Chris Trawicki.

Girls basketball: head coach Tom Mc-Carty, varsity assistant Holly Nowak, JV coach Angela Totzke, eighth grade coach Andi English.

Wrestling: head coach Andrew Lukasko, JV coach Connor Handrick, middle school coach Aaron Nieman.