The Stoughton Area School District Board of Education is in a tough spot.
Facing dwindling state aid and enrollment, board members see a multi-million dollar April referendum as a way to balance the books while maintaining services and staffing in a district residents have given high marks. Ask too much, however, and those same voters could slam the door, likely forcing a wave of teacher layoffs and programming cuts to make up for what district officials say is more than a $3 million shortfall.
Now it will be up to district officials to sell their plans to a tax-weary public over the next few months.
With an April referendum squarely in their sights as a solution to a mounting financial concerns, the Stoughton Area School District Board of Education continued to narrow their focus on what – and how much– they will ask from district residents.
During the board’s Monday night meeting, district superintendent Dr. Tim Onsager said there seems to be a consensus among board members on the need for a four-year referendum schedule; the question is now whether that referendum should be recurring or not. A recurring referendum would indefinitely add to the amount of taxes the district could raise, depending how much was asked for.
“In my view, a recurring referendum is preferable, because it makes school funding in Stoughton a lot more predictable,” said board member Frank Sullivan.
German exchange students who spent time recently in Stoughton make the “W” sign during a recent visit to Camp Randall Stadium.
Hopefully, all the Norwegian flags around town didn’t cause any confusion.
Earlier this month, a group of more than a dozen students from Augustinianum Gymnasium Greven wrapped up a visit to Stoughton, hosted by Stoughton High School students. The trip is the last half of an exchange through the German American Partnership Program (GAPP), during which 19 SHS students traveled to Germany for three weeks this summer.
The German students visited from Oct. 17 to Nov. 3, and got a great chance to experience American culture firsthand with their SHS partners. The group visited Chicago upon its arrival, where Celina Remke, partner to SHS senior Allie Moe, noticed a difference right away.
“Especially the skyscrapers and the (elevated) train,” Remke said. “Also the typical yellow school buses. And there are so many Dunkin’ Donut shops on every street. But that you have to pay tax is very weird.
Trying to get things in order before writing up a resolution to ask for a new referendum next spring, the Stoughton Area School District Board of Education continues to review financial projections and possible scenarios.
The group met Monday night – the board’s usual “off” week, but with decisions and deadlines looming, they have been working overtime to try to figure out timelines for when decisions need to be made, and exactly what and how much to ask from district residents in a likely April referendum.
SASD superintendent Dr. Tim Onsager credited school board members for an “excellent job” of considering the needs of both students and taxpayers as district officials decide how to address a projected shortfall.
Photos by Scott De Laruelle.
River Bluff Middle School students Brandon Grosz, Nicholas Partin and Jacob O’Flarety play a board game as teacher Jason Model looks on.
Chloe Silbaugh and Dwight Walker work on projects during a recent “advisory period” in seventh-grade social studies teacher Colleen Riley’s classroom.
Getting middle schoolers to want to attend classes isn’t always easy – the tweens and early teens can be a turbulent time. But staff members at River Bluff Middle School are trying some new ways to help get kids involved and keep them in school.
With an attendance rate hovering in the 95 percent range for the past several years, River Bluff isn’t having any dramatic problems, but the numbers could always be better.
“They can’t learn if they’re not here,” principal Trish Gates said.
Not only that, it’s not always easy to keep kids engaged when they’re in class, particularly if they have other problems in the background, such as issues with family or friends.
So Gates and other school officials have made two recent changes to both improve attendance and help students and staff build better working relationships.
Hindered by a reduction in students and state aid, Stoughton Area School Board members held the line on next year’s tax levy while preparing to take their case to the public for a planned referendum next April.
The board approved a total school levy of $21.3 million for the 2013-14 school year Monday night, down slightly from last year’s $21.7 million, though an even larger decrease in the district’s property value increased the rate district residents will pay. That rate has increased each year since the 2006-07 school year, as property values have declined for the past five years.
The loss of state aid in recent years has meant district residents are increasingly picking up more of the tab. In 2005-06, the state provided more than 58 percent of the district’s budget, with taxpayers accounting for around 30 percent. Next school year, the state will kick in only 40 percent, with taxpayers footing more than 48 percent of the bill.
Economic times may still be tough for many, but for those who’ve learned skilled trades, opportunities and careers are growing.
With that positive message in mind for young people, the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin (WDBSCW) is partnering with area trade organizations and more than a dozen Dane County high schools – including Stoughton High School (SHS) – to raise awareness about area career possibilities in skilled trades.
The “Trade Up” campaign will run through May, focusing on eight trade careers: electricians, sheet metal workers, steamfitters, painters and drywall finishers, plumbers, laborers, bricklayers and iron workers. Students, parents and educators can access workforce information online on any of the trades and can watch videos to understand the nature of the work.
Photo by Scott De Laruelle.
Ken Bork of Wisconsin Operating Engineers talks with Stoughton High School sophomore Amiel Flocca and SHS school-to-career coordinator Cindy Vaughn Thursday afternoon during part of the company’s two-day educational event hosted at the school. Students were able to talk to company officials about apprenticeships and other opportunities in operating and maintaining heavy equipment.
Tractors, graders, dozers, scrapers, loaders, mixers, pavers and rollers – these massive machines sculpt the Earth, and the men and women who operate and maintain them are finding lucrative, though demanding, careers across the state.
That was the message from heavy equipment instructors Bob Cayer and Ken Bork from Wisconsin Operating Engineers. With their help, the Coloma-based company is scouring the state to connect promising high schoolers to apprenticeships and careers in an industry Cayer said is going strong, to the point they have been beating the bushes to find a few good folks.
“This summer, we had a hard time trying to get people,” he said. “We do job fairs all over the state - last week we were in Appleton and the Alliant Energy Center - we try to do a job fair at least once a week. If schools offer, we’re there, trying to get into the schools as much as we possibly can, state-wide.”
The economic downturn of the past half-decade has negatively affected many jobs and careers, and perhaps no group has felt its effects more than high school students graduating into a workforce in tumult.
Good jobs can be hard to find in many sectors, but one area that is experiencing not just growth, but a boom, is the “skilled trades.” Electricians, sheet metal workers, heavy equipment operators, plumbers, bricklayers and iron workers are in high demand, and at Stoughton High School, students interested in these jobs are being prepared for success after school.
Stoughton area residents see a school district that is improving and has their growing support, according to preliminary community survey results recently released by the district.
The take-home message of the results included many responses pointing to more positive attitudes among district residents toward the school, including a willingness to pitch in to improve its financial picture. With a potential new referendum looming next year – four years after voters passed a previous set of referendums – that’s good news for district leaders.
Stoughton Area School District superintendent Tim Onsager said he was pleased to see plenty of positive trends in the data, which contrasted identical questions posed both in 2009 and this fall.
“We’re really proud of the survey results,” he said. “We’re very proud of the growth we’ve made and are very happy that the community is showing its confidence in us.”