Despite referendum, staff reductions likely

Last week’s successful four-year, $20 million recurring referendum may have saved the Stoughton Area School District from making extreme budget cuts. But facing continued declining enrollment, school board members will likely continue reducing staff positions to match recent enrollment trends.

With a nearly two-thirds positive vote, the referendum provided the district with a vote of confidence, but residents will expect – perhaps now more than ever – fiscal responsibility.  At Monday night’s board meeting, district superintendent Tim Onsager noted that, as he recommended $253,250 in budget increases for next year, including two additional teaching positions and two interpreters for deaf students, as well as $399,000 in cuts, including 6.6 teaching positions.


Fascinating physics at Sandhill photos

It’s not every day that students get to learn first-hand from an actual rocket scientist. It was quite the opportunity when Mike Randall from the University of Wisconsin-Madison brought “The Wonders of Physics” with him to Sandhill Elementary School on Feb. 25. The students, joined by their colleagues at Kegonsa Elementary, learned that science and physics is hands-on fun, and several students and even staff members got a chance to interact and join in. For more on “The Wonders of Physics,” visit Photos by Scott De Laruelle.


Superintendent makes district’s ‘final argument’ for recurring referendum

Photo by Scott De Laruelle. Stoughton Area School District superintendent Tim Onsager answers questions during a referendum listening session last week.

Constrained by state-imposed tax limits and unfulfilled funding promises, Stoughton Area School District officials believe a “yes” vote on the four-year, $20 million April 1 referendum can be a positive game-changer for a district on the rise.

At a listening session March 20 at Stoughton High School – the last of several in the 78 days since the school board decided to put the vote on the ballot – district superintendent Tim Onsager reiterated a sobering fact: Once funding from a pair of 2010 referenda goes away in June, the district will be the lowest-funded in Dane County. That, he said, would force massive cuts and worsen its already problematic enrollment decline.

According to district statistics, enrollment a decade ago was 3,663 students. This year the district has 3,193 students, and by 2019 that number is projected to be 2,862.


Nearing the ‘home stretch’

With voters set to decide on a critical, four-year, $20 million referendum for the Stoughton Area School District in less than two weeks, school officials are putting on the final push to get their message out.

District superintendent Tim Onsager, who has made numerous speaking trips around the community during the past weeks, told board members at Monday night’s meeting that while the last listening session in a Thursday at the high school, he’s available whenever and wherever needed.

“I could go on for hours on the great things that we’re doing,” he said. “Next week is spring break, but I plan on going at least once to the senior center to answer any questions, and I’m kind of on call for any presentations.”

Onsager said a postcard will be mailed out to everybody’s home in the district next week, reminding people to vote April 1 and the key points of this referendum.


Pass or fail

Photo by Scott De Laruelle. Stoughton residents Lloyd Rowley (left) and Roger Thompson put up a sign supporting the referendum last week.

April 1, 2014, could go down as a decisive day in the history of Stoughton, with the school district’s four-year, $20 million dollar recurring referendum going to district voters. It would replace two referenda approved in 2010 that expire in June, and would cost the owner of a $200,000 house an additional $105 per year during the next four years. If the referendum were to fail, taxes would drop by $325 next year, and the district would face a shortfall of $3.1 million for the 2014-15 school year, and around $1.15 million in 2015-16 district officials have said.


SASD asks voters for help

During a day of state-wide counting this fall, 290 students were enrolled in the Stoughton Area School District’s (SASD) ninth grade.

Only 190 filled district kindergartens.

Facing recent drop-offs in state funding, school boards are increasingly asking the public to pick up more of the tab. In areas like Stoughton with declining enrollment – the lifeblood of school district funding – the burden is falling even more on the public to fund school districts.

A large decision will be made April 1, when SASD residents may cast ballots to allow – or not - the district to exceed state revenue limits with a four-year, $20 million recurring referendum that will be capped after four years.

The Stoughton School Board voted in January to approve the measure after a non-recurring version was also explored. The measure would essentially replace two non-recurring funding referenda approved in 2010 that expire in June.


Students march to support April 1 referendum

Photo by Scott De Laruelle. Stoughton High School students were joined by parents, friends, family and residents Saturday afternoon as they marched down Main Street in support of the April 1 referendum. A group of about 40 people met at the Stoughton Fire Department before and after the march.

With the April 1 Stoughton Area School District referendum vote just weeks away, several dozen supporters hit Main Street Saturday, led by an energetic group of students.

Around 50 people met at the Stoughton Fire Department to gather, design signage and commiserate before a sunny, brisk 1 p.m. march around Main Street. Many of the attendees were Stoughton High School students, many of whom predictably wore less than parent-approved winter clothing, but were more uniform in their support for the district.

SHS students Annalise Panthofer and Amara McCune were called on to organize the event through Strong Schools Strong Communities, because of their active voices, said Panthofer, the 2014 SHS student representative for the Strong Schools Strong Communities.

“We definitely had positive feedback from drivers, and had lots of teens involved,” she said.

Sophomore Jenna Gardner said she was marching to “support Stoughton.”


School Board candidate questionnaires

Voters in the Stoughton Area School District will choose between four candidates for three spots on the Stoughton School Board in the April 1 election. The Courier Hub sent each candidate a questionnaire. Read their responses by clicking on their name below:

Liz Menzer

Bev Fergus

Brett Schumacher

Alison Sorg


Fab Lab open house set for March 15

Photo by Kim Wethal. Stoughton High School students will serve as tour guides next Saturday during an open house for the school’s “Fab Lab.”

The Stoughton Area School District’s state-of-the-art digital fabrication laboratory (Fab Lab) will be the center of attention, as people are invited to the high school next Saturday to see what students are learning during a community open house from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, March 15.

No registration is necessary and all are welcome. Visitors will be able to see how the machines inside the lab work and talk with students who are now taking classes in the lab.

Some of their work will also be on display during the open house.

The Fab Lab houses a three-dimensional (3D) printer, milling machine, laser cutter and engraver, vinyl cutter and large-scale computer-controlled router.

At the lab, Stoughton students can make everything from furniture to action figures to circuit boards and learn what it takes to turn an idea into a physical product.

That work also gives students a glimpse of what the research and development process looks like.


Local officials: Don’t dump Core

The state legislature is considering a bill to alter performance standards for schools across Wisconsin, and Stoughton Area School District administrator Tim Onsager is not pleased about what he believes is the legislature’s politicization of the issue.

Senate Bill 619 would eliminate the national Common Core standards, which despite becoming a source of controversy, have been adopted by 45 states. It would replace those standards with a 15-member appointed board.

Onsager said district officials have spent the past four years preparing teachers and the curriculum to work with Common Core standards; time that would be wasted if the standards are scrapped.

“It’s my belief – and I think the belief of lots of educators across the state – that this legislation is unnecessary and counterproductive,” he said. “It would only serve to undermine the years of work that has gone into creating the Common Core.”