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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Wausaukee School Board Proceeds With School District Dissolution

Issue Date: July 9, 2008

With just one dissenting vote on Tuesday, July 8, Wausaukee School Board approved a resolution that will almost surely lead to dissolution of the school district effective July 9, 2009, should the voters reject the board’s third and probably final funding referendum at the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 19. Dave Kipp cast the sole dissenting vote. Ken Limberg was absent.

The board approved the Aug. 19 referendum at special meetings on Tuesday, July 1 and Thursday, July 3, in response to petitions signed by 670 voters. Initial notice of intent to dissolve resolution was approved on Thursday, June 26. The petitions were turned in at the district office on Monday, June 30.

After the June 26 dissolution vote, school district supporters turned out in force and came through with petitions containing 760 signatures asking the board to have another funding referendum. Those petitions were turned in on Monday, June 30, and at a special meeting on Tuesday, July 1, the board agreed to take school funding to the polls for the third time this year. Wording for that referendum question was approved at a special meeting Thursday, July 3. A political action group made up of citizens and students, known as SOS (Save Our School) has been holding informational question and answer meetings in the community and taking other actions in support of the Aug. 19 referendum.

Aug. 19 was chosen as the date because the vote had to be at least 45 days after the last referendum attempt (June 24) and board members wanted it before start of the next school year to end uncertainty for students and their parents.

The SOS group has scheduled a town hall style informational question and answer meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday, July 10 at Athelstane Town Hall.

The Aug. 19 referendum will ask voters to allow the board to levy $675,000 over the state levy limits in school purpose property taxes for each of the next 10 years. Present for the July 3 meeting and voting in favor of the formal motion for the referendum were Farrel Maule, Ken Jones, Limberg, Kipp, Joe Lanich, and President Dennis Taylor. Elmer Busick was absent. There were no opposing votes.

Taylor explained they settled on the $675,000 annual amount partly because that is the amount that has been levied each year to pay off the new school building. The last payment will be made in 2011, and after that taxes would go down by that amount, so effect of the proposed resolution will only be felt for three tax years. Impact is projected to be $102 in additional taxes each year on a $100,000 property for three years, unless overall appraised value of the district goes up, in which case the increase could be considerably less. After the final building payment is made overall school taxes will automatically go back down to the pre-referendum level.

Taylor said this is offered as the long-term solution people have been asking for, and allows them enough money to make some changes that will lead to greater future savings. However, he cautioned that people need to be aware that just because the board received enough petitions and is starting the latest referendum attempt did not mean the dissolution process would stop. The dissolution process will go on now no matter what we do, he declared.

Administrator Jan Dooley said at Florence, where she was administrator while they were going through similar funding problems and narrowly avoided dissolution in 2005, once voters approved the final referendum attempt the state boundary appeals board determined the district should stay open. I trust the same thing will happen here, she commented, but repeated, once it goes in to the hands of the state, simple passage of a referendum will not stop it.

Last item on the agenda at the July 8 regular board meeting was the dissolution resolution. It read: Approve Resolution to Order Dissolution of the School District of Wausaukee, per Wisconsin State Statute 117.10(1), to be effective July 1, 2009: ‘Be it resolved by the Board of Education of the School District of Wausaukee that the Board of Education is ordering dissolution of the School District of Wausaukee per Wisconsin Statute ...to be effective July 1, 2009.

When the item came up, Kipp read a prepared statement and then asked the board to either vote down the dissolution resolution, or at least postpone a decision for two weeks.

Taylor strongly disagreed with Kipp’s request to postpone their decision. It’s important that the board of education do what it says and say what it does. It’s time for people to make a decision. He argued that if the resolution passes the state will not dissolve the district. If the resolution passes and they do go ahead with dissolution, they would get killed in the political fallout, he declared.

Kipp, in his statement, expressed strong concern the state might decide to make an example of Wausaukee and go ahead with dissolution even if the Aug. 19 referendum is approved. He declared, Tonight the Board of Education is facing one of the most difficult and far-reaching decisions that it has ever faced. Over the past several days I have personally agonized over my personal decision on what my vote should be regarding dissolution of our School District. I can assure the rest of the Board as well as those of the public in attendance here that my decision has not, nor could it be influenced in any way, by another person or group.

’We as a Board and Administration, in addition to several members of the public, have done our best over the past weeks to present to the public an honest and open discussion of the financial situation of the district, Kipp said. No threats have been made, contrary to the allegations in a recent Peshtigo Times letter to the editor, Kipp went on, adding that, If the public, as that letter stated, has lost confidence in the Board of Education, so to a large degree has the Board, speaking for only myself, lost a certain amount of confidence in the public’s ability to completely understand the ramifications of the decisions the Board is being forced to make.

He expressed gratification at the groundswell of community support for the most recent referendum voted by the Board and announced his decision to vote against ordering dissolution of the school district at this time. While the possibility that the passage of the current referendum on August 19th might result in a Boundary Board of Appeals denying dissolution, at this juncture, I at least am not prepared to risk such a decision, since there is no guarantee... He feared even in the face of a referendum approval the state might use Wausaukee as an example for solution of other district’s financial problems in the future.

What would be the consequences of voting no to dissolution tonight? he asked.

1. The referendum might indeed fail once more, and if it did, the district would end the current fiscal year with an accumulated deficit approaching half a million dollars by July 1, 2009. If dissolution was not ordered tonight, the Board of Education would then undoubtedly order dissolution to occur as of July 1, 2010, a postponement of a year. Personally, and again I assure you that under those circumstances, I would vote for such a dissolution, and that is not a threat, it is a promise!

2. The referendum might pass, not only saving the district from dissolution, but restoring a sound financial footing for the long term. If the dissolution order were defeated tonight, it would in addition, save the district perhaps $35,000 in costs for the process, money that the district can ill-afford to spend, not to speak of the time once more required of the Board and Administration, to divert our attention from our most important responsibility, that of educating our children. In addition, referendum passage would also reassure the public that financial stability has returned, and parents need not send their children to other districts for their education, without the continuing threat of dissolution, would continue to hang over the district, for perhaps the next six months, with no guarantee that the district would not be dissolved anyway. While I might concede that such a risk might be small, nevertheless, there is still a risk. In addition, if the district were dissolved in spite of a successful referendum, the additional monies provided by the referendum would then be divided among the adjoining districts, Kipp went on, adding that he would vote against ordering dissolution at this time. He asked for support of other board members, but it was not forthcoming.

Taylor said this board achieved success in getting concessions and other cost cutting measures because they have done what they said they were going to do. He said part of the current problem is that past boards always yielded to pressure and gave in when things got tough.

Longtime board member Busick supported Taylor with a motion to continue with the dissolution process until such time as something changes, and then a formal motion in favor of the dissolution resolution. Taylor asked the board to support him, and do what we said we were going to do. Busick’s motion passed, with Kipp casting the sole dissenting vote. Voting in favor were Taylor, Jones, Busick, Maule, and Lanich.

So, despite approval of the third referendum attempt, wheels for dissolution of the district continue to turn.

The district has been operating in the red for the last several years and the general fund currently has a negative balance that will continue to grow unless additional funds are approved. If the district is ultimately dissolved, students, along with district debts and assets and the properties that support the district, will be assigned to neighboring districts on a proportionate basis by the Boundaries Appeals Board. The new districts will be able to increase their school purpose levies without referendum approval by whatever amount is approved by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction as sufficient to cover added costs.

According to District Administrator Jan Dooley and board members, any further cuts in the Wausaukee School District budget will result in a decrease in the quality of education offered to Wausaukee students and possibly further declines in funding as students leave under open enrollment to attend school in other districts.

The geographically huge Wausaukee district already has low student count, high property values, and low per capita income. Under the current state funding formula over 80 percent of Wausaukee operating expenses are paid by local taxes, as opposed to less than 30 percent local funding as a state average.

The first referendum attempt, which sought a total of $4.45 million over the revenue cap over a four-year period, was overwhelmingly rejected in February. Voters indicted they wanted the board to cut costs and offer some long term solutions.

Subsequently teaching staff accepted a salary freeze and agreed to pay 20 percent of their health insurance costs. The board offered early retirement incentives, trimmed the staff by about a dozen full time equivalent positions, and found other places to economize. They came back with a referendum request to exceed the revenue cap by $575,000 next year but that too was rejected at the polls, by a narrow margin of 544 in favor and 563 opposed on June 24. The board in proposing that referendum indicated it was a short term fix to buy time for a long term solution. Some opponents of that referendum indicated they wanted a long-term solution, which is what the board is proposing in the Aug. 19 referendum.


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