Caro Schools asking for sinking fund

On Tuesday, voters in the Caro Community School District will be asked to approve a levy of .08 of a mill for six years to create a sinking fund for construction or repair of school buildings, and acquisition of property for school sites.
Depending on where a voter lives in the district, they will either vote at the Polish American Club at 1466 Mertz Rd. (M-24) or at the Caro City Hall at 317 S. State.
If approved, the millage is expected to generate about $230,000 the first year.
The following is the Advertiser’s Q&A with Superintendent Bruce Nelson on the upcoming vote:

Why does the district need a sinking fund? The district needs a sinking fund because the state has reduced our funding level to that of 2006. As a result, there are many infrastructure needs which have been put off due to lack of funds. Infrastructure refers to areas of capital investment: lighting replacements, boiler upgrades, roof replacement, gym floor replacement, etc.
The district has taken steps to curtail costs over the past 3-4 years. In the current year, the staff has tightened their belts to the tune of $1.5 million, which is in addition to belt tightening done in the previous three years. Administrators led by example taking pay cuts, insurance changes and insurance co-pays. Our teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers and coaches followed that lead with pay cuts, insurance changes and co-pays of their own. It has been a district wide effort.
Essentially, the district is coming to the community as a last resort. There are pressing needs which we simply cannot undertake without assistance from our community. The schools serve our community in a great many capacities such as dinners, health fairs for seniors, exercise classes, etc. It is natural to turn to the community for support, too.

What are some of the projects that could be addressed with a sinking fund? We will address things in priority order with an eye toward projects which will save money and increase safety. (1) replace lighting in Schall, the Middle School and the High School with more efficient ones to save on electricity. (2) take measures to reduce our use of water. (3) take measures to upgrade heating and control systems so that we consume less natural gas. (4) take measures to address the potential for falling from the football bleachers as well as replace wooden seats and flooring which are warped and weakened. (5) replace our High School gym floor which was damaged by flooding a few years ago. (6) We are aware that the pool is a subject of discussion. If we keep it open, there are renovation needs which should be addressed and if we close it, there are costs involved with closing it and renovating the space for other usage. In either case, the district does not have the funds to address the issues. (7) From these the list simply grows longer: the wooden light poles are aging quickly, the track has safety issues due to cracking, each building has roofing and insulation issues that should be addressed, Middle School bleachers are at the end of their safety life and the MS floor needs replacement, too.

How have these projects been paid for in the past? Over time, projects which had to be done were completed and the money taken from the district’s reserves. Each year, the reserves are measured at the high water point of July 1st but over the course of the year, the district must borrow money to maintain operations. Three years ago, we did not need to borrow at all, but this year we had to borrow $1.6 million. As the reserves decline, the amount to be borrowed increases and with it the amount needed to pay interest expenses. This accounts for the reasons to postpone all projects except those that are critical. It also means that there are fewer funds for expenses such as technology, school buses, bleachers … In the past, the district requested tax support for bonds which were used for some major renovations in 2005. However, even then, our needs exceeded our capacity and some needs were put on hold or only partially addressed.

What are some of the items that cannot be funded by a sinking fund? The list of things the fund cannot be used for is very lengthy and sometimes very picky. Funds CANNOT be used to pay salary or benefits, pay for standard maintenance items, or pay off outstanding loans. It can be used to replace playground equipment but not for the parts which require maintenance such as swing chains or seats. Funds can be used to replace lockers but only if they are a part of the wall and are not free standing. Funds cannot be used for technology but can be used to put in the wiring. Funds cannot be used to replace school buses. Funds cannot be used to repaint parking lines in parking lots unless the lot has been sealcoated.

Why does the ballot state that the district may purchase property with sinking fund money and is that a possibility? The election laws require that the ballot language include ALL of the potential uses for the fund, The purchase of property and the preparation of sites for construction are permissible and therefore that language needs to be on the ballot. If approved, the Caro Community Schools WILL NOT use the Sinking Fund to acquire more property or to pay for land currently under a land contract. In fact, there is serious discussion related to the sale of school property, not about acquiring more. Incidentally, the sale of school property will not generate a huge windfall; it would only get the district out from under annual payments.

What will this millage cost the average homeowner? The district is asking for a very small tax increase. Home values vary and so the cost will vary, too. If a home is valued at $100,000, the taxable value is around half of that amount or $50,000. The formula is as follows: 50,000 times .0008 = $40 per year.
The bottom line is this: Does the individual voter value the contribution of the schools to serve the education of our children, and the advantages to the larger community enough to pay a small tax increase? Do we want to see the asset of our schools deteriorate at the expense of our children? Do we want to help maintain the schools so that funds can be directed to learning rather than pressing needs by paying a very small tax increase? The amount, even on a more expensive home is not very large. Many of us spend $40 or more on dinner and a movie.

Why is the district seeking a millage now and not in November? There are a number of reasons to hold an election now. Readers may recall that Mayville voters failed to renew the district’s Non-Homestead Millage; they are taking the matter back to the voters because without that millage, they may be forced to close. The Caro Community Schools will need to ask for renewal of our Non-Homestead Millage in November. We did not want to have two questions on the ballot at the same time. Another reason is related to the proposed wind turbines to be constructed. Passage of a Sinking Fund at this point will ensure that the utility companies are obligated to contribute to the fund, too.

Who is exempt from this millage? Exempt is not the word to use. If you are a farmer, you can apply these costs to the tax rebate from the State and so it will not cost the farmer more. If you are a senior citizen and are eligible for a tax rebate under the Homestead rebate provisions, this millage can be applied there, too and it will not cost you more. If your property is in a Renaissance or Brownfield zone, those provisions would apply and it would not cost you more. If you rent a home, this millage would not cost you more. It probably would not provide sufficient reason for a rent increase either.

I don’t have a child in Caro Schools. Why should I give more money? As a citizen, I have never had my home broken into. I have never had a house fire, or even had a brush fire get out of control. I might ask why I should support a well trained and equipped police and fire department. The answer lies in the fact that whether I use services or not, I am a part of a community. My property values are maintained and actually increase if the community in which I live has a good police and fire department. Many people prefer to live in a community which has a hospital, a library, and opportunities to play tennis or basketball. But the value of almost all homes is closely linked to the quality of the local schools.
The number one community asset which contributes to property values and quality of life in a community is the school system. This small increase in property taxes will benefit ALL of US who live in Caro. The biggest benefit, however, will be to children.

What happens if the millage fails? I have a book with the title: “Failure is not an Option”, but for this millage, failure to pass is possible. Should it fail, the district will be forced to divert scarce resources to address the most immediate needs. As stated above, this will mean even greater strain on the annual budgets resulting in further cutbacks and program restrictions. It will not be an immediate result but it will be an inevitable one. The process of slow decline will accelerate with each passing year.

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