Laporte School’s administration has been able to make the necessary cuts to get the district nearly out of the red, doing so without laying off any staff and deciding not to co-op with Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School in sports.
Superintendent Kim Goodwin outlined the plan at the start of Monday night’s special board meeting, which was attended by 70 interested parents and students.
The district sits at about $352,000 in the red. After the April 8 board meeting where the vast majority of community members attending were opposed to co-oping in sports, Goodwin halted discussion with WHA and took that option off the table.
The cuts include the retirement of four paraprofessionals and a special education teacher at the end of the school year; a part-time special education teacher position that will not be filled; and eliminating cross-country, a custodian on game nights, and the salary for a middle school science teacher who came out of retirement to train a half-time teacher who did not have a license.
The district also increased the local operating referendum from $300 to $424; cut the monthly newsletter from nine publications to four starting this fall; and won’t have to pay $40,000 for Chrome Books for elementary students, which was a one-time expense.
A Sports Booster Club is being formed, and Goodwin is hopeful they can raise $25,000 annually to offset expenses.
That adds up to about $314,500 in savings so far.
Goodwin said the balance could come from a $74,000 grant she wrote to offset one teacher and two para salaries, but she won’t know if this was successful until near the end of the school year.
“Not having to lay off any of our staff is huge,” Goodwin said. “Our enrollment is going up, so we really can’t lay off staff,”
Board member Sally Raddatz thought the plan may be too conservative and that more cuts need to be made, maybe at the staff level. “These cuts are a one-time thing.”
Goodwin responded by saying it is difficult to make up all the deficit in a small school district.
Later in the discussion Raddatz said salaries are the biggest part of the budget, so if the district goes to a seven-hour schedule, it can get by with fewer staff.
“We keep the school open — No. 1. That is what is best for the children and the community,” Raddatz said.
“We looked at numbers, and we have some good numbers for 3- to 4-year olds coming in,” Goodwin added.
Principal AJ Dombeck gave a quick update on the 314 pupils enrolled at the school. Sixteen will graduate this spring with 28 expected to start kindergarten next fall.
Board member Sue Olson said the administration and board have done what they can. “We’ve been working hard on this for a long time,” she stated, adding that school districts are not properly funded, and elected state representatives and senators need to be accountable and contacted by community members.
Some community members asked questions or gave comments, but the tone was less hostile than at the April 8 meeting.
Bryan Kerby, whose children have played and one who continues to play sports at the school, was surprised that sports co-op was taken off the table. “Education is a priority, not sports.”
One parent brought up the possibility of a sports fee for students, an option the board said they can address at a future meeting.
Board member Lisa Price thanked the community members for their input. “It helps to have a dialogue between us. Thank you for your ideas.”
Operating Levy Referendum
Laporte School will likely bring a levy question to the voters this fall on an operating levy referendum.
The board has until Aug. 23 to call for an election, which would be held Nov. 5. Notices must be sent to all taxpayers by mail.
An operating referendum is a combination of local property tax levies and state aid that is used to pay for operating or capital expenses.
Two representatives from Ehlers, a firm specializing in public finance, gave a presentation on what an operating levy referendum entails and what the increase in property taxes would be.
Provisions include a specific dollar amount per pupil with a fixed amount or including annual inflationary adjustment, at a maximum of 10 years. Seasonal recreational property (cabins) and agricultural land and buildings (only levied on house, garage and 1 acre) will not be levied.
There are three tiers for aid, but Laporte School only qualifies for state aid in the first tier.
The number of districts relying on operating referendum revenue has increased from 65 percent in 1993 to 99 percent in 2019. Two school districts currently do not have a referendum authority in place, seven districts accept a portion of local optional revenue and three districts do not accept any local optional revenue.
The reason for the growing reliance on referenda, as explained by the two Ehlers representatives, is that state education funding has not kept pace with inflation. The only options for school districts to bridge the funding gap are to cut budgets or increase referendum revenue, with most doing both.
A residential homestead with an estimated market value of $100,000 would pay $72 more in taxes per year under Option 1 with a $600 per pupil referendum revenue. Annual taxes would go up to $98 on Option 2 at $700 per pupil and $124 for Option 3 at $800 per pupil.
In other school business, the board:
Gave the staff two options for the April 12 snow day. Staff can either make up the day May 29 or do other after-school projects.