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LUHS Board Considers Referendum For Capital Projects

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Despite several major remodeling and renovations projects completed in recent years at Lakeland Union High School, the district school board says additional projects are looming – and a referendum might be the best way to raise money for them.

Recently, the board reviewed a proposal offered up by member Barry Seidel to raise the needed funds via a referendum. “We have a lot of unknowns coming up,” Seidel said. “We don’t know exactly where we are going to come in with the charter school. We don’t know where the state budget is in terms of funding. We don’t know how that is going to affect us in terms of cash that we might bring in. “We may have other programs that we may decide over the next fiscal year that we want to support. And we might have other expenditures that we just don’t expect.”

In addition, the projected budget for next year shows a current $300,000 deficit. In the past, the district has been covering its budget through “attrition” of long-time staff when they retire, Seidel said. That frees up money as younger teachers make less money than their veteran counterparts.

Seidel outlined two options to holding a referendum on those capital projects. One would ask voters to approve a one-time levy of $5 million to replace the stadium bleachers, repave the primary parking lot, as well as other projects totaling about $3 million. That would increase the tax levy by 83 cents per $1,000 of valuation. The result would be an increase of $166 on a home valued at $200,000. The other option is a “recurring” referendum to provide an increase of $1 million each year, pushing the tax rate up 17 cents each year, or $33 on the same house.

Going the referendum route would protect an account commonly labeled “fund balance.” School districts use them to pay expenses because their revenue streams -- namely real estate taxes and state and federal aid payments – don’t flow evenly over the course of the year. Fund balance bridges those periods of low cash flows. In doing so, the district avoids “short-term” borrowing, which carries interest costs.

Fund balances can also be tapped for capital improvement projects – and LUHS has done just that over recent years – and for emergencies, such as a failing steam boiler. But tapping it too much risks not having enough money to cover those low cash periods. Going the $5 million path means the district could do at least $3.5 million of capital improvement projects, including the stadium bleachers.

But not all board members are on board with their replacement. Emily Hallstrom still wants an expert opinion on its safety. The underlying structure is deteriorating according to earlier reports but the upper portion appears to be in relatively good shape.

Pam Carrol thought the administration’s summary report that recommended JW Industries of Green Bay as the company to replace the bleachers was short on details “I would like to see a complete scope of things to be done,” she said also of the capital projects list. JW Industries offered to replace the bleachers for $413,000. An additional $90,000 would cover the cost of making the 4,000 square feet of space underneath useable for storage of equipment, etc. That, Seidel said, was “expensive storage space,” especially as some footage would be restricted in height.

Board members were promised further details on the capital projects and referendum options. Board president Ed Schaub said he would appoint committees to review the capital projects list, the stadium bid and also the referendum issue.

The board has until June to make a decision to put a referendum question on the November ballot.

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