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School's tax rate will stay the same

SPOONER– The Spooner Area School District adopted a $16,213,908 levy for the 2019-20 school year during its annual meeting on October 28. Though the levy is higher than the nearly $15.5 million from last year, the mill rate – what taxpayers will pay – will remain the same, $9.57 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Director of Operations Shannon Grindell said the flat rate is "excellent for the taxpayers of the district."

The district continues to have one of the lowest mill rates among the Heart of the North Conference schools. The district's rate is the second lowest of the nine schools, with other rates ranging from $6.30 in Hayward to $13.81 in Ladysmith in the 2018-19 school year.

The $16.2 million levy is the highest over the past decade, but the mill rate is the lowest it has been since the 2012-13 school year.

On the not-so-good side of the ledger, the per-pupil revenue is also the second lowest at $9,400 for the last school year but will rise to $9,700 in this year's budget. The state is working toward

working toward a minimum of $10,000 per pupil.

The equalized value of the property in the district figures into the mill rate, and as of October 1 it was $1,695,281,490, more than double what it was in 2000 but still less than 2008 to 2010 when it surpassed $1.74 billion.

Enrollment

The enrollment (fulltime equivalency) last school year was at 1,301 but is at 1,258 this year. With revenue based in part on enrollment, the number of students becomes a driving force behind the revenue column. Over the past decade, Spooner's enrollment rose steadily between 2009-10 and 2014-15, topping out at more than 1,380, but it has since fallen to 1,258.

Grindell said the drop was expected and had been projected to be 1,253. Fewer babies are being born, and that ripples out to lower enrollments.

"We will continue to see a slight downtick in the upcoming years," Grindell said. "But, again, it's nothing that is going to come as a surprise to us because we've already got those projections."

Open enrollment continues to worry the district. The number of students open enrolling out of the district rose slightly this year to 198 as measured on the third Friday in September. Year-end enrollment out, however, topped out at 205 last year, the second highest over the past decade.

The open enrollment into the district has been in the mid-40s range for the past three school years.

Budget

The levy will cover:

• $12,155,908 in the General Fund (operations).

• $3.9 million for debt service. The genesis of the debt was $34.81 million issued in March 2008 for the new high school and improvements to the middle school. Remaining debt so far is $25.26 million, with the final payment set for October 2027.

By law, the district can borrow up to 10% of the equalized value, but the current debt load is nowhere close to the $169.5 million.

• $158,000 in Community Service, which includes community education.

The total budget, including the levy and all other anticipated incoming and outgoing funding, is $22,299,524 in revenue and $22,267,576 in expenditures.

The tax levy is 66% of the district's revenues. Some of the other sources are 7% from the federal government, "a small" 4% from state general aid, and 9% categorical aid (for specific expenses such as transportation or special education). Another 5% comes from student, admission, and community education fees.

Looking at the expense side, Grindell said, "Nothing surprising or new here. Salary and benefits are always your largest portion of expenses."

Salaries account for 36% of the budget, while benefits add another 12%. The next largest categories are 19% for contracted services and 17% for debt retirement.

Other business

• Just 14 residents of the district attended the annual meeting and budget hearing, and 13 of them were school board members or district employees. The meeting was livestreamed, and the video is archived on the district's website, spooner.k12.wi.us.

• Michelle Kabdi made a motion to raise the monthly school board salaries from $125 to $150, and Paul Johnson motioned that the board president salary be raised to $200 to compensate for the higher workload. The original motion was amended to include that, and with a second and a vote, the increases passed.

Grindell said the last adjustment was a slight one in the 2014-15 school year. She said the budget could accommodate the increases.

The board members could vote on giving themselves, and future board members, a raise because they function as citizens during an annual board meeting rather than as board members.

"It's making a stand in support of the effort and dedication that individuals are willing to make for our students in our district," Erin Burch said of their vote.

The vote on the reimbursement for board member out-of-district travel kept it at $51.75 a day plus actual expenses.


Show will highlight retail, fashion

SPOONER– Quick: Name a dozen stores in Spooner's downtown area that carry clothes, footwear, and fashion accessories.

Most people likely could reel off two or three, maybe even a handful, but a dozen?

Esa Everroad of the Purple Pelican started thinking about that when she ran into locals here and there lately and asked them why she never sees them downtown.

"Without exception," she recalled, "they all said, 'We never shop downtown. That's for the tourists.'"

That shocked her. It did not jive with how she sees Spooner's retail and sense of self.

"We're one of the few of the touristy towns in this region that are still an authentic town," Everroad said.

She sees the town as one that appeals to seasonal visitors but also one that sustains the year-round residents, where they all can find what they need right in town, from hardware and household supplies to appliances, clothing to home decor, pharmaceuticals to health foods. All that, plus plenty of services, restaurants, and drinking establishments.

She started looking at the range of retail, and something struck her, something she thought maybe shoppers might not realize: Many of the businesses had diversified their individual offerings by adding clothes and accessories to their line-up.

That common denominator comes in many guises,

from Northwoods winter-hardy to boho to cruise wear, from consignment to a little on the higher end.

Plus, no one has to send away for it and return it because it does not fit the way they expected.

Everroad got to talking with business owners Sue Churchill and Xan Nelson of Round Man Brewing Co. and The Dock, and together they came up with an idea to promote that aspect of the diverse businesses: a fashion show.

Destination Wardrobe will be staged at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Round Man. The event is billed as "featuring independently owned retail businesses in Spooner who offer everything wardrobe for men, women and children, always on trend and in style."

General admission is free, though seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. Limited VIP seating also is available. Tickets can be reserved by calling 715.635.7727 or stopping by the Purple Pelican on Walnut Street (downtown).

Germ of an idea

Spooner's beauty and vital downtown attract visitors, Everroad said. Some locals, though, may harbor some misconceptions that keep them from taking full advantage of the retail abundance at hand.

One of those misconceptions, she said, is a perception of the shops being expensive, when actually a wide price point can be found in the stores.

Everroad said the fashion show will be a quality event. Round Man has built a lighted runway, professional lighting has been arranged. Hairdressers and makeup artists will be there, though Everroad said they could use another make-up artist or "just somebody who's good at it."

The use of music was purchased, and a videographer was hired.

A modeling casting call went out, and 30 people showed up – every size and shape, men, women, and girls.

"We had a huge response," Everroad said. Some could not make some part of the event or preparations, which narrowed the number that will be in the show to 24.

Sponsorships were sought to help pay for the event's costs and to allow free admittance to the show.

"I wanted it to be free because I didn't want anybody to have any reason not to come and find out what we have here," Everroad said. "I didn't want anybody to feel like they couldn't come because it was going to cost 10 or $20."

Some VIP seating will be sold which will come with their own perks.

Fourteen retailers will be part of the show, and all but one carry some sort of clothing or related accessories – the 14th carries jewelry.

Each retailer can have four full outfits in the show.

Everroad encourages people who are interested in attending to reserve tickets. Though some standing room will be available, she expects that the seats could be filled.

Everroad anticipates that the Destination Wardrobe could become an annual event.

"I'm just hoping that this turns into another thing like Ladies Night and Jack Pine Savage Days and those kinds of things that are meant really to give something to the community and to let them know what we have in downtown Spooner," she said.

She said the shops need local patronage as well as seasonal if they are to be successful and the business community of Spooner is to thrive.

Everroad encourages shoppers to shop local first. She believes they will be surprised at what all is available.

"If we can't do that, we're going to be like many of the other tourists towns that are not viable in the winter," she said. "Many of the businesses [elsewhere] have to lock their doors all winter, because they can't afford to stay open. And we don't want Spooner to be one of those towns."

She added, "I want every downtown business to be viable in the winter, be able to afford to pay their employees and afford to buy their product and be able to provide the community with a viable, authentic town that's open 12 months of the year."

She said the businesses are responsible for their own Social Security and health care insurance. They strive to find interesting products that they believe people, and they try to keep their prices reasonable.

"We are fairly independent lot," Everroad said, "and we work hard to bring what we bring to the community. We do it for a multitude of reasons, but one of them is because we love our community. We want to be downtown here."

Apparently, some of the businesses really love fashion, too.


$16M school referendum may amass voter support

SPOONER– A survey sent to residents of the Spooner Area School District came back with some encouraging news for those who support a potential referendum to make improvements at the elementary and middle school: It appears that a referendum in the $16 million range could pass, and it would cover most of the projects that the school board has proposed.

That is, with one huge exception: That amount would not cover the construction of a new middle school, which would bring the total referendum closer to the $31 million mark.

The survey was conducted last month, and the 1,117 people answered the survey online or on paper, for a response rate of 18%, considered a typical return. The margin of error is +/- 2.9%.

Sue Peterson of School Perceptions, the company that did the survey for the district, presented the results at the school board's Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, Nov. 4.

She said the survey had two purposes: to educate the public about the potential referendum and to gather their input on the projects to gauge what they would support, project-wise and financial-wise.

Once a survey reaches 400 responses, she said, additional responses do not change the outcome much.

As expected based on the district's make-up, the largest percent of the respondents, 38%, were 65 and older. The others were 1% 18-25, 10% 26-35, 18% 36-45, 16% 46-55, and 17% 56-64.

Fifteen percent of the respondents were employees of the district. Thirty-one percent have children in the school, mostly evenly split between the three schools.

Throughout the presentation, Peterson emphasized that the critical numbers to look at are the non-parent, non-staff portion of the graph because they are the majority of the district and represent the most voters in a typical

referendum.

Middle school

The survey outlined the overall need at the middle school: "If the community agrees to pursue a capital referendum, one of the key decisions that will need to be addressed is the future of Spooner Middle School. Spooner Middle School was originally built in 1945, with additions in 1956, 1963, 1990 and 2009. The Facilities Audit identified a list of safety and security, infrastructure and building system needs as well as educational and site deficiencies."

Approximately $5.5 million would be needed to renovate the school to meet the district's needs for the next 10 years.

Alternatively, a new middle school could be built onto the high school, at a cost of $19.1 million.

"This configuration," the survey said, "would improve staff and program efficiencies, making it easier to share staff and reduces duplication of resources. Additionally, this would give accelerated middle school students the opportunity to participate in higher-level classes."

The response was 44% support a new school, 18% said do nothing, and 18% said they need more information.

But when looking at the purple bar on the graphs, the one representing non-parent, non-staff – and the largest block of voters – the numbers dropped to 33% support. Forty-five percent say update the existing middle school or maintain the current school as is ("do nothing").

"So this point, we don't have a strong support for moving towards that winning," Peterson said.

Other projects

Then the survey listed the other projects being considered, which include:

• Update infrastructure, $3.9 million to $6.2 million.

"While the Spooner schools have been well maintained, many of the schools' major systems have exceeded their useful life, resulting in inefficiencies and ongoing costly maintenance and repairs, many of which cannot be covered in the District's annual budget," the survey said.

Infrastructure improvements could include: Replace the boilers, controls and ventilators; replace roofs, plumbing, and electrical systems; improve technology infrastructure; update core finishes, including paint, flooring, lighting, doors and windows; and repair pavement surrounding the schools.

• Improve safety and security, $2 million to $4 million.

"The safety of our students and staff is our top priority," the survey said. "There is a need to update the school entrances to better regulate visitor access. This would require all visitors to be routed through the schools' main offices before gaining access to the rest of the school. In addition, the school parking lots need to be redesigned with dedicated bus and vehicle drop-off/pick-up lanes to better separate vehicle and pedestrian traffic."

• Address Address Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Code Compliance, $60,000 to $300,000.

"There are areas in our schools that need to be updated to meet current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) code compliance, including entrances and areas with elevation changes. The middle school elevator is old, and replacement parts are no longer available, requiring complete replacement."

• Add a dedicated cafeteria with performance space, $3 million.

"The elementary school cafeteria is also used for physical education. This requires staff to set up/take down the lunch tables each day and creates scheduling challenges for physical education classes. The space is too small to accommodate all the school's students at one time. Consequently, students are served lunch over three periods, resulting in some students eating lunch as early as 10:30 a.m.

"If a cafeteria is built, a stage with sound and lighting systems could be added, creating a cafetorium. This would improve the quality of the performance/presentation space available for school and community events and reduce the scheduling conflicts with the gym's already busy schedule."

• Build an early childhood education wing, $2 million.

"There is a growing demand for early childhood programming. As a result, the District has expanded the four-year-old kindergarten program. However, the current elementary school does not have the needed space to support this program. A dedicated early childhood education wing could be added onto the elementary school that includes four classrooms, support spaces and a playground."

• Update the outdoor athletic field, $1.1 million.

"The current football and soccer field's usage is limited to protect the quality of the grass. A multi-use, artificial turf field could be installed to significantly increase usage of the field regardless of weather conditions. This would allow the field to be used regularly for physical education classes, other educational activities, athletic practices and competitions, marching band practices and performances and youth sports."

On a scale of 10 (yes) to 1 (no), the disabilities improvements garnered a support of 7.02 of nonparent, non-staff support; district-wide infrastructure received 6.28; safety got 6.28. Those three were considered to have good potential in a vote.

Coming in lower were cafeteria and performance space, 5.02; early childhood wing, 4.55; and multi-use turf field, 2.58.

Financial support

The property tax input on the projects would be $28 per year per $100,000 of property value for a $16 million referendum; $41 per year for $20 million; $54 for $24 million; $66 per year for $28 million; and $76 per year for $31 million.

The point where at least half of the largest percent of voters would support a referendum is at the $16 million level.

"It's likely that the recommendation from your community is to continue to make a small investment in the existing middle school," Peterson said. "So you might be sitting around $5 million there."

The $16 million also would cover the disability, infrastructure, and safety improvements, and possibly the cafeteria and performance space at the elementary school, Peterson said.

|Next

The school board will meet again next Monday, Nov. 11, in a special meeting to discuss the survey results and to discuss possible referendum contingencies.

If a referendum is held, the plan is to run it in this coming spring.


VETERANS DAY

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