2015 Referendum Questions and Answers
1. Question: Was the school Forest harvested, and if so what was the money used for?
Answer: The school forest was not harvested. The District was given approval by District voters to purchase a small tract of land directly behind the school and that land was harvested to expand the existing field. Funds from the harvest were used to offset the cost of harvesting.
2. Question: If the referendum fails,will the school close in 2018?
Answer: : If the District does not pass an operating referendum it will run out of money during the 2017-2018 school year and we will need to short term borrow to meet operating expenses during the 2016-2017 school year. We have had an operating referendum in place since 2001 to offset the revenue shortfall created by the school funding formula.
3. Question: What responsibility does the state of Wisconsin have in adequately funding public schools? Who can we contact about this?
Answer: Article X of the State Constitution states: “The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years”
Jeffrey Mursau Thomas Tiffany
4. Question: Can we all see an exact itemized cost of operation after the new referendum would pass?? Looks pretty generalized on the brochure. Are we raising wages or laying someone off ?? And so on and so on !!
Answer: The District’s operating budget is public information and accessible upon request. It is shared and voted on at the annual meeting. Employee wage increases are limited to the consumer price index which is determined by the state. Even if the referendum is approved the District will need to continue cost reduction efforts to meet anticipated expenses which fall short of revenues over the next 5 years.
5. Question: The Elementary School was built in the 1960s.When will the School need to replace or remodel it?
Answer: The Elementary section was built in 1965 and is currently in good shape. We have replaced the heating system and we plan to replace the roof this summer. The district will be debt free in 13 years which would be a good time to address any major building improvements that may be needed.
6. Question: What has the district done to maintain its facilities over the last 6 years?
Tore down 1918 building
Remodeled office area
Remodeled high school restrooms
Installed new bleachers in the small gym
Installed energy efficient lighting in the small gym
Built a new chemical storage room in the science lab
Removed the old furnace
Installed a new furnace
Sealed off old air returns
Installed a new exhaust hood in the kitchen
Installed a new convection oven
Replaced non-working garbage disposal
Installed new exit signs and lighting
New playground with wood chips and playground equipment
New fitness center, commons and concessions area
New locker rooms
Remodeled small gym locker rooms and bathrooms
New parking lot
New sidewalks in front of the building
7. Question: How many office staff does the District currently have?
Answer: 1 District (PK-12) secretary; 1 District Bookkeeper; 1/2 time PK-12 Principal; 1/2 time PK-12 Director of Special Ed; 1/2 time Superintendent.
8. Question: What is the amount of State Aid White Lake gets per student? How much do we receive in Special Ed funds? and what fund is the Special Ed Director’s salary paid from?
Answer: State Aid comes from several sources. The majority of State Aid comes in the form of General Aid which was $394,208 this year which is not awarded per student. Special education aid is tied to operating expenses. We receive approximately $70,000 in state special education aid and $75,000 in federal special education aid. All special education programming expenses come from the Special Education Fund 27 which is balanced at the end of the year by the general operation Fund 10.
9. Question: Doesn't the decline in students have a direct link to lower amount of state aid we are receiving? And if we borrowed money for the New Rec. Ctr. Wouldn't that money have been better spent on maintenance or the foreseen budget shortfalls?
Answer: Our General Aid has been declining by 15 per cent every year since 2007 and our enrollment has fluctuated during the same time frame. The district’s last referendum had two separate questions on the ballot. One was for the construction of a new recreation center/remodeling and one for building operations and both questions were approved. The operating question was for a continuation of revenue support that has been needed since 2001 for general maintenance and basic programming due to the decrease in revenue from the state revenue formula.
10. Question: What was the cost of remodeling the Office and bathrooms? Was this a necessity?
Anwer: The cost of remodeling the office and bathroom was $101,243. The office was remodeled to improve community access and monitoring of the main entrance for safety and overall efficiency. The bathroom was outdated with numerous airflow and plumbing issues. Both projects were planned for and paid with district funds in 2009/2010.
11. Question: What was the cost of the Softball field? And how much was paid for by the Packer Concessions and how much from the timber taken off?
Answer: The cost to clear, grade, and relocate the drainage pond for the softball/physical education field behind the school was $7,400. The district applied $3,100 from the timber that was harvested and paid the remaining $4,100 of the total cost. The packer concessions have raised $5,500 and the booster club will be donating an additional $7,500 to go towards the continued development of this much needed physical education/athletic field.
12. Question: The total projected school property tax increase on a $100,000 home over the next 5 years will be an average of $46.00 per year or $3.90 per month. Please explain how this works.
Answer: This is a projection based on the last five years of a ten year forecast tracking a $100,000 home in the White Lake School District and the property tax it would pay each year starting in 2015/2016 if its value grew as the projected district equalized value grew. It is important to remember that our future student enrollment and equalized property value is based on trends and current economic conditions both locally and statewide. As equalized value increases, the mill rate decreases and this forecast is based on the following conservative equalized value increases of .5%, 1%, 1.5%, 2%, and 2% respectively over the next five years.
Starting with 2015/2016 the total five year increase is $234 or an average of $46 per year for five years or an average of $3.90 per month for 60 months if the projections stay the same.
13. Question: Was there an alternative softball field that could have been utilized? Spending almost $30,000 on a softball field seems a bit "over the top". Why wasn't the money applied to the budget shortfall or academics?
Answer: Currently there is not an alternative softball field in the White Lake area that can be utilized. We have been working to update the district facilities to be somewhat equal to other school districts around us. Factors such as safety, programming, future costs, and community needs have been considered when making a decision. Our students currently walk or drive to all of our athletic fields for practice and games. Although we can’t afford to change the current locations of our athletic fields we can work to improve the field behind the school for physical education activities, recess, softball, little league and other community activities at a low cost. We received approval from the community at the Annual Meeting to purchase 3.1 acres from the railroad at a cost of $11,675 to relocate the drainage pond for safety reasons and improve the field which had been reduced due the addition of the parking lot. These changes have made it possible to improve the field to accommodate physical education activities and a WIAA certified softball field. To date, we have utilized the funds from the tree harvest on the railroad property and spent an additional $4,100 on the field improvements. Students, community clubs, and parents are currently fundraising to keep the field improvements moving forward.
14. Question: If the school receives additional state funding for transportation of students. Will that amount be subtracted from the $300,000 referendum request?
Answer: Although additional funding for transportation is a move in the right direction, it is not enough. Details of the Governor’s budget are still being reviewed and will probably have some changes after the legislature has input. The additional revenue for rural schools identified in the Governor’s budget for transportation will be insufficient to offset the reduction in the budget of $150 per student categorical aid that we received last year and was included in our revenue forecast for the 2015/2016 school year. The $300,000 referendum does not cover our projected expenses for the next 5 years. The district will need to continue to look for ways to reduce costs and continue to work with the legislature to recognize the needs of rural schools and fix the school funding formula.
15. Question: How much of the annual budget goes to pay former teachers retirement? And do you see that amount changing in the near future?
Answer: We don’t pay into the Wisconsin Retirement System for staff that have retired. We discontinued the post-employment health benefits for employees hired after 9/01/1985 in 2011 which has made a substantial reduction in our current operating costs. The budget for 2014-15 is $50,800 and will be going down every year until 2021 when all of the current benefits will be paid in full. Below are the post-employment benefits from the staff handbook.
Severance benefits shall be available to eligible employees with three (3) years’ experience and hired after 9/01/1985. The district shall maintain a public 457 (b) deferred compensation plan that will allow employees to set aside a portion of their salary on a before-tax basis. This plan will allow for both employee and employer contributions. If an employee elects to make monthly contributions, the district will match those contributions to a maximum of 2% of the employee’s salary for employees with less than 15 years’ service to the district and 4% for employees with 15 or more years of service to the district of the employee’s yearly salary divided evenly among the 12 monthly contributions. The employee will retain title and control over the 457 (b) account.
Post Employment Benefits
Upon retirement, employees hired prior to 9/1/1985 The District will pay premiums at no more than the District contributions to rates in effect at the time of retirement for a single health and dental plan for (7) years or until Medicare eligibility, whichever occurs first. Any increases in premium, which occur in succeeding years, will be the responsibility of the retiree. Retirees shall be permitted to stay in District health insurance for a period of five (5) years at their own expense.Employees with 10 years’ experience in the district will receive $90 per day for unused accumulated sick leave up to a maximum of 60 days payable to a 457(b) deferred compensation plan. The employee will retain title and control over the 457(b) account.
16. Question: Why were maintenance issues set aside over the years?
Answer: The District prioritizes building and maintenance projects according to need, urgency, and overall financial impact on the Annual Budget. We have been able to extend the life of our roofs by repairing and patching as needed over the years. The roof in the elementary wing is 17 years old and is now beyond repair so we have budgeted to have it replaced this summer.
17. Question: Where does the spending stop?
Answer: The District has been very frugal in addressing past facility needs. A lot has been done over the last six years to update and maintain our facilities resulting in energy cost savings and community pride. Facilities that are adequately maintained last longer and generally cost less over time. Below is the District’s tax rate from 2000 – 2014. The current tax rate is 1¢ more than it was in 2009.
18. Question: What has the gym done for the school other than give the students a better gym/locker room?
Answer: Below are a few community/school advantages of our new facility:
- New community fitness programs for groups and individuals
- Late night athletic practice for students has been eliminated
- Gym classes can do cardio and strength training
- Students have facilities equal to what students have in surrounding school districts
- Host fundraising tournaments
- Red Cross crisis center
- Community classes/training in the commons
- Host WIAA post season competition
19. Question: How much Money has the district saved since Act 10?
Answer: Act 10 reduced the District’s operating revenue by $224,000 and the district decreased expenses to adjust for the loss in revenue by taking the following actions:
- Increased the employee health insurance premium contribution
- Changed the health insurance plan and increased the deductible for employees
- Implemented an employee pay freeze
- Reduced the district’s employee retirement contribution by 50 percent
- Discontinued post-employment health insurance benefits
- Reduced staff positions The graph below includes the levy for the new addition and shows a decrease since 2010/2011.
20. Question: How much of the referendum money would actually be used to help "keep the school open" ? When the new gym was built the district suddenly had extra money to put towards it that they had saved up over the years from previous referendums.
Answer: The $300,000 operating referendum will be used to pay for operating and maintenance expenses. The district has been very frugal in the past and unused funds have gone into the General Fund which we have used to replace the boiler, reduce the cost of the new addition, and offset the loss of revenue over the last several years.
21. Question: Why doesn't the school board worry about providing some decent playground equipment for the kids instead of worrying about a new softball field which is not needed?
Answer: The District has replaced and added some playground equipment in the new playground area. The field behind the school has been improved with the potential to facilitate softball, little league baseball, and physical education activities.
22. Question: At the end of five years, under your proposed budget, the school will be still running at a deficit. Even with the referendum, the general fund will have a zero balance. What then?
Answer: The district will need to maintain a fund balance at the end of the five year referendum. We are not able to control the actions of the legislature on school funding and thus we will need to continue to look for ways to lower costs while balancing the needs of maintaining our facility with offering a quality educational program.
23. Question: Enrollment at the school is constantly declining, and lets not kid ourselves is will continue to. I understand the school is a big part of the community, but the town won't die without the school. At what point is enough enough?
Answer: Although our enrollment dropped this year, it has been relatively stable going back to 2009. The drop in enrollment this year was largely due to a graduating senior class being replaced by a small kindergarten class. We currently have 16 three year old students registered this year.
24. Question: With the total enrollment number at the school around 170 students, was the 3.5 million dollar price tag for the new gymnasium really necessary when money could of been used in other areas?
Answer: The referendum to build the Community Fitness Center was a community facility committee recommendation to address the numerous facility issues that existed with locker rooms, bathrooms and an aging gymnasium that did not meet WIAA requirements. The 2011 referendum asked two separate questions - one question to finance and build the Community Fitness Center and one question to allow the school district to exceed the revenue limit by $200,000 per year for three years and both questions were approved. The 3.5 million dollars was approved by the voters to be borrowed for the building of the Community Fitness Center and could not be used in other areas. Additionally, as with our own home budgets, it is not wise to take out a loan to pay normal operating expenses.
25. Question: What is the additional cost per year including added insurance, heating and electricity for the new gymnasium?
Answer: The additional costs for insurance can’t be determined because at the time the Community Fitness Center was built a new appraisal was performed for the first time since 1998. The updates to the replacement costs of the entire district for the first time in 15 years caused the insurance to increase overall. It is also difficult to estimate how much the heat and electric costs have changed as a result of the new Community Fitness Center. The district has completed many projects to increase energy efficiency, including replacing the elementary furnace, the kitchen exhaust hood, windows and light fixtures. The total amount paid for heat in 2013-14 ($31,969) was actually less than the amount paid in 2008-2009 ($33,939) and everyone can agree that last year was much colder than normal. The amount budgeted in 2014-15 for all utilities is about $4,500 more than what was actually paid in 2008-2009 (6 years ago).
26. Question: Do I need to be preregistered to vote if I am a first time voter?
Answer: Yes, you can pre-register at your town hall office up to April 3rd; otherwise you need to register the day of the election. You must bring with you your valid Driver’s License and proof of residence (i.e. utility bill, bank statement or pay check stub).
27. Question: Please explain the mathematical equation that goes into establishing what the mill rate is.
Answer: The School District mill rate is calculated by dividing the total levy ($1,846,567) by the equalized value of the district ($163,395,239), which gives us $11.30 for 2014-2015.
28. Question: Instead of calling it a gymnasium, it's being called a community fitness center. How many hours during the week, and on weekends is it actually open to community residents?
Answer: The new addition was designed to meet the needs of the school district and community. It serves as a gathering place for community events and fitness programming. The new addition also serves as a disaster shelter for the community with adequate space, water and bathroom facilities. We are in the process of identifying a power generator that would be capable of providing emergency power for the new addition should the need ever arise as it did when the tornado went through White Lake in 2007. The fitness center is supervised by volunteers from the White Lake Fitness Association. Below is the current Fitness Center schedule for community members. Community members are encouraged to contact the White Lake Fitness Association to serve as a volunteer supervisor.
29. Question: I read that the state budget proposal would cut categorical aids. What are those, and how would those cuts impact this district?
Answer: The Governor’s State Budget proposal would cut $150 per pupil categorical aid and $75 per pupil revenue limit increase for the 2015/2016 school year. This budget cut would be a reduction of approximately $42,525 in revenue. Even though the Governor’s budget includes an increase in Sparsity Aid and High Cost Transportation Aid, the net loss in revenue for 2015/2016 will be approximately $26,675 resulting in a revenue shortfall without any increases in operating expenses next year.
30. Question: What is the Fair Funding initiative?
Answer: Below is a brief overview of the Fair Funding Plan and contact information taken from the Department of Public Education website that you might find helpful.
The Fair Funding for Our Future plan:
For more information, contact email@example.com or 608-266-8687.
31. Question: If the referendum fails and the district has to operate within the spending cap, how long before our fund balance is depleted and the district has to borrow for operating expenses? What programs would be cut to try to delay that?
Answer: If the District does not pass an operating referendum it will run out of money during the 2017-2018 school year and we will need to short term borrow to meet operating expenses during the 2016-2017 school year. We have had an operating referendum in place since 2001 to offset the revenue shortfall created by the school funding formula. We have been reducing staff and programs for the last 5 years and we don’t believe we can cut any more out of the budget and still maintain our facilities and offer a viable educational experience for students.
32. Question: Some of the referendum is for maintenance to the facility. What are the estimates on how much would be spent on these projects if they are done now versus a few years down the road?
Answer: We will need to balance our building maintenance and security projects over the next five years with future changes in the state budget. We hope to replace the elementary wing roof and update our science lab over the next two years. It is hard to project building project costs more than a couple of years. It is fair to say that the longer maintenance issues go unaddressed the worse they get and the more they end up costing.
33. Question: How did the district experience a loss of revenue from act 10? Wouldn’t this have saved the district $224.000?
Answer: No, Act 10 reduced the District’s allowable revenue which forced the District to make numerous budget reductions to correspond with the reduction in revenue. The District tax levy was $2,006,852 in 2010/2011 and the tax levy this year is $1,846,567. We have less revenue to meet the rising operating expenses from the cuts that were made as a result of Act 10.
34. Question: Are we now having 3 year olds attend school? I see in a past answer about enrollment it state we had 16 3 yr olds. What is the cost of this, or is this another government funded program?
Answer: We offer an optional 3 year old program two days a week for an hour and half each day. There is no additional cost to the district for this program because they participate with our current 4 year old program which we receive funding for. The enrollment in the 3 year old program is an indication of positive enrollment growth in the district.
35. Question: What is the cost of the Costa Rica trip that has been approved? How is it being funded?
Answer: The Costa Rica trip is paid for by students and their families. There is no cost to the district for this learning opportunity that takes place during the summer months.
36. Question: What is the current compensation for board members and the school clerk? What is the current number of members on the board?
Answer: The school clerk is a school board member and there are 7 members on the White Lake school board. Board members are paid $85.00 per meeting and there has been no increase since 2009.
37. Question: The focus of the WL board & district supervisor seems to be on athletics vs. improving education. Rather than build a $3M gym & commons area, wouldn't the students have been better served by improving technology & offering better business courses? The school hasn't been able to keep teachers - it's seen as nothing more than a "stepping stone" to obtaining a better teaching position in another school with decent enrollment figures. Also, with regard to the tract of land that was purchased & cleared for a new softball field -- what was wrong with using the "Blue Goose Diamond" on Hwy 64 just east of 55??
Answer: The District strives to offer a comprehensive learning opportunity for all students. All programs are important and students often find success in different ways. Our vision is to be a small rural school that is unique as its students which requires us to make all programs a priority. We have made progress in updating our facility and grounds to be comparable with other school districts in our area which can be a factor when families make a decision on where to live and enroll their children in school. Several community committees have emphasized that White Lake pride is important and that “good enough” is not what is needed for community growth. We have taken some actions to retain staff and we have seen some positive results. However, we have more work to do. We continue to update our technology and one of our priorities is to redo our science lab. We have made some needed repairs and updates in our business education lab and technology education classroom/lab. We need the field behind the school for physical education activities and it made sense to utilize the property for a softball field/little league field so that our students do not need to travel. We are currently developing the area with fundraising dollars.
38. Question: What are the responsibilities of the director of Special Ed.? How much time is spent doing that job?
Answer: The Special Education Director is a 50 percent leadership position that oversees all aspects of the District’s special education program. Some of the areas of responsibilities include:
Prior to the district’s current administrative structure, we contracted with CESA 8 for a 50 percent Special Education Director who was in the district two and a half days per week.
39. Question: Including the 16 3 year olds -- what is the enrollment figure as of today, March 5, 2015? When building the new gym -- there was a kind of Field of Dreams mentality of "build it and they will come" -- however, except for the White Lake & Church Street apartments, which see constant tenant change, families have not moved here. This is more of a retirement community. The inclusion of 3 year olds seems more of a day care - but it does make it look like there has been a growth in enrollment figures. The improvements that the school wants to make could already have been made for less than $3 Million. Isn't there a possibility that the State could end up closing the school due to inadequate student enrollment? If that could happen -- would property owners still be saddled with the remainder of the $3 Million debt - and the additional $1.5 Million Debt if this referendum is approved?
Answer: We currently have 170 students enrolled in our 4K – 12 program and an additional 16 three year old children that participate in our in our optional three year old program. The community building committee reviewed the condition of the existing gymnasium, locker rooms, weight room, bathrooms, and technology education classroom and concluded that the most cost effective and long term approach solution to address the deficiencies was to build a new Community Fitness Center and remodel the other areas. Below are some pictures of the areas that were addressed:
Please refer to the answer given to question # 23 on enrollment patterns. We are forecasting enrollment to be flat and grow slightly over the next 5 years. District tax payers will pay school district property taxes including current debt regardless of whether the White Lake District runs out of money and thus requiring our students to attend another school district or they continue to attend school in White Lake.
40. Question: When will the debt from the 2011 referendum be paid off?
Answer: The building debt that voters approved on the 2011 referendum will be paid off in 13 years.
41. Question: How does the school perform academically?
Answer: We met expectations on our last District Report Card which is one form of feedback on the state level that we use to monitor student achievement. In addition, we continuously analyze multiple forms of local student achievement data to improve instruction.
42. Question: How did the community meeting go last Saturday morning?
Answer: The community town hall meeting on the referendum last Saturday morning was well attended. There were a lot of good questions and discussion. Coverage of the meeting can be found on the links below.
43. Questions: 1) Your information states that enrollment is projected to stay flat & slowly rise over the next 5 years -- what is that based on? Apartment dwellers do not pay property tax, therefore, do not support the school. Are you actually projecting an increase of real property owners/families with children that will attend WL school?
Answer: We create an enrollment forecast by comparing the number of seniors graduating with the number of anticipated 4K students. We currently have 16 seniors and we anticipate that we will have 16 students in our 4K program next year. We also use trend data identified in question 23 to adjust for our transient student population. Our district has experienced enrollment growth in the later grades when compared with the early grades over the last ten years which is a trend we expect will continue.
2) Your information states that the 7 board members receive $85 per meeting -- that's $7,140/year if monthly board meetings take place -- and that figure does not include compensation for attending conferences, retreats, etc. Isn't 7 a high number for such a small school? And since the district is looking to save money wherever possible -- why doesn't the board offer their service for free, at least until the school grows, as you forecast?
Answer: The number of board members was brought to the community for a vote at the Annual Meeting in 2008 and community voted to maintain a 7 member school board. School board compensation is voted on by the community every year at the Annual Meeting. School board members commit a lot of time that is not compensated and often refuse compensation for eligible meetings and travel that is related to the overall operation of the school district. Please see question 36 for more information on school board compensation.
3) In one question related to the land purchased & cleared for a softball field -- you said it was purchased because no other softball field was available -- yet the Blue Goose Diamond exists just a few miles away, which you admitted. In another question related to the land purchased for the new softball field - you said money was being raised for improvements -- yet $4,100 was spent out of district money for the purchase & clearing of the land. What is the truth?
Answer: Please see questions 1, 13 and 37. The funds used on the field behind the school included relocating the drainage pond because it was a safety hazard for children during gym class and recess. The district did not have access to the Blue Goose field last year and ended up playing all home games in Polar. The softball field project behind the school is part of the efforts to update and improve the district facilities.
4) You are asking property tax payers to borrow you $1.5M over the next 5 years -- and let's make that clear -- you would be borrowing from the property tax payers -- they just won't be receiving interest as a financial institution would -- and you state it will not be enough & the district will end up borrowing from a financial institution as well. It doesn't make sense to ask people to pay more for a sinking ship. Property tax payers will not only be left holding the debt for the new gym, & the referendum - but they will also be paying to another school district, should WL close. How do you address that?
The referendum on April 7th is for permission to increase the district’s taxing authority by $300,000 per year. If the referendum is approved the district will still need to reduce costs and rely on the fund balance to align projected revenues with expenses.
5) The referendum hand-out states that some of our property tax money is going to another school district instead of to WL. The only thing I see on my tax bill is money going to Northcentral Technical College -- so what are you talking about?
Answer: The local school tax levy goes to the White Lake School District. If the White Lake School District closes, the school tax levy will be determined and go to the school district that White Lake students attend. In addition to local property taxes, state taxes contribute to the state’s general fund which is where state aid comes from and the White Lake School District loses 15 per cent in state aid every year.
44. Question: With the tax levy at about 9 million over the next 5 years, and the 1.5 million from the referendum, plus the 1.2 million in the general fund, all being spent over that 5 year period. After this 5 year period, the school will be broke. It appears that we are funding the school for the last 5 years of its life. How is this a good plan?
Answer: The 5 year referendum is based on projections in revenue and expenses that compound every year. As in the past, the district will need to continue to find ways to reduce expenses and actively seek changes in the state funding formula that negatively affect small rural schools. The 5 year funding plan represents a doable balance for sharing the financial burden between the community and school district.
45. Question: Who was on the Referendum Committee and how were they selected?
Answer: The referendum committee is a small group of community volunteers that came forward and were contacted to help communicate the financial challenges and needs of the school district.