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Referendum slated

Edgar vote scheduled for February

The Edgar Board of Education last week Wednesday voted to schedule a phased-in $650,000 recurring operating referendum on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. The vote was unanimous.

The referendum, a response to district declining enrollment, will, if approved, keep the district from running large, six-figure deficits, while keeping the district mil rate fairly steady.

A Baird analysis provided the board shows that the referendum will be rolled out over three years with an initial $150,000 tax increase followed by two $250,000 tax increases.

Without a referendum, according to the analysis, Edgar School District will face a $533,351 deficit in 2022-23; with the referendum, however, the school district will have a $120,331 surplus in that year.

The referendum keeps Edgar school taxes relatively stable. The Baird analysis says the school tax rate will increase from $10.81 in 2019-20 to $10.89 in year three of the referendum, when the proposal would be fully implemented.

The referendum analysis assumes that property in Edgar School District will inflate in taxable value by one percent a year.

Thus, according to school officials, an average priced Edgar School District home currently valued at $135,936 will be worth $140,055 in the third year of the referendum. School taxes on this average property will increase from $1,469 to $1,525, a difference of $55.73 or four percent.

If passed, however, school taxes with the referendum would be significantly higher than if the proposal does not pass.

The Baird analysis says that the school tax rate would plummet by nearly $2 dollars to $8.82 by 2022-23 if a referendum does not pass.

The school referendum, in other words, keeps school taxes pretty much the same, but, without the referendum, school taxes will sharply decrease.

The Baird analysis forecasts a continued shrinking student enrollment, projecting the school’s current 539 student body will decrease to 519 by 2022- 23.

Under state revenue caps, school boards can spend on education according to how many students they have. School districts with decreasing enrollment have to cut back on both spending, but also, depending on how much state aid they receive, how much they can tax.

Board members considered a $600,000 referendum, but agreed to add another $50,000 to the proposal.

The board agreed to the higher sum after administrator Dr. Cari Guden said the district needed money starting next year to take care of two highpriority maintenance projects, including a $60,000 update to the technology education dust collection system and routine school roof maintenance.

Guden added that she would like at some point to update classrooms on the west side of Edgar.

As a result of revenue caps, the coming year Edgar School District budget has a bare bones maintenance budget.

In previous meetings, board members, especially school board president Bill Dittman, wanted to refinance school remodeling loans to lessen the impact of an operating referendum. As things turned out, such refinancing, which would have come at a penalty, is not needed.

Board members said, however, they would have the refinance option “in their back pocket” should the Baird analysis not pan out for some reason.

Board members Corey Mueller said the board’s main interest was to keep school taxes stable and predictable.

“Steady Eddie,” he commented.

Board member Gary Lewis voted for the referendum, but said he did not like the school district paying ever higher health insurance premiums for teachers and other staff.

Lewis said the district should cap its health insurance contribution at $20,000 per year and instruct teachers to go buy their own health insurance.

Lewis said that the district’s health insurance total yearly premium likely totaled around $1 million. “That’s a pretty good chunk of our budget,” he said.

The board member, too, lamented the loss of unions under ACT 10, arguing that union contracts kept benefit packages in line across school districts.

He said Wausau metro school districts were now free to increase teacher pay.

“Now Wausau can go nuts and D.C. Everest can go nuts,” he said. “We’re out here in Edgar and we’re stuck.”

School administration didn’t think Edgar teachers would support such a proposal.

“I don’t know what the draw would be if we didn’t have health insurance,” said elementary school principal Lisa Witt.

“What if they [the teachers] all resign?” asked administrator Guden.

Witt told board members her school had already made cuts as a response to declining enrollment and ongoing tight budgets.

“This past year, we lost two elementary school teachers,” she said. “We are not providing the differentiated services that we would like to. It’s tough. We are feeling the pain.”

In other school board business:

_ High school principal Tom McCarty said he was gauging student interest in forming an Edgar High School e-sports team.

He said 70 Wisconsin High Schools currently had e-sports teams and held matches and tournaments like in WIAA- sanctioned sports.

McCarty said current leagues in the state hold matches in fall and spring seasons and compete in computer games that work on PCs. He said starting up an e-sports team would come at little or no cost. These teams need no transportation or uniforms.

McCarty said e-sports might give students uninterested in normal sports an avenue to represent their school in a competition. “We’re just exploring this right now,” he said.

_ Board members hired Gary Brewster as a girls basketball JV2 coach and Connor Handrick as next year’s varsity baseball coach.

_ Board members gave high school English teacher Jennifer Laxton permission to start planning for a trip to Germany and, possibly, Poland and Hungary, in June 2022.

Student cost for the trip, she said, would be $4,250. Laxton said she needed a minimum of six students to sign up.

The teacher said initial student interest has been positive.

“There has been definite interest among the sophomores,” she said.

Laxton said she pushed out the Europe trip two years so as not to conflict with middle school teacher Jennifer Higgins’s student trip to Spain.