Oswego School Board Wrestles Over Paying for Technology, Building Needs
Oct 12, 2016 10:36PM ● Published by Steven Jack
That question was at the forefront of discussions again during Tuesday night's School Board meeting regarding funding for approximately $14 million in needed technology and capital projects throughout the district.
While no decision has been made as of yet, School Board members discussed, and sometimes argued, over whether the district's taxpayers should have a voice in the decision. The district has the option to fund the projects with bond issuances that do not require the approval of voters through a referendum.
School Board member Greg O'Neil, however, said the School Board should not be "circumventing" the will of voters who may not approve of the district taking on more debt. He called for a voter referendum to decide whether the district should issue bonds for the projects.
"We serve the needs of the people, not our own needs," O'Neil said. "... This is not a good political way to handle this."
The approximate $4 million in technology improvements needed in the district include the replacement of antiquated servers, telephone services and wifi hardware. According to Allen Clasen, the district's director of technology, within the next year, much of the technology that needs replacement will either fail or will no longer be supported by its original vendors.
On the capital projects side, about $10 million is needed for several large-scale projects across the district. The first is $3 million in construction costs to move the district's special education programs into the Brokaw Early Learning Center.
Another $726,000 is needed to move the Brokaw pre-kindergarten programs to Eastview Elementary School, which currently houses the all-day kindergarten center. Both projects are precipitated by the district's plan to move all kindergarten students back to their home schools by the 2017-18 school year.
O'Neil's call for a referendum was met by resistance from other board members, who said the district does not have the time to approach voters if the construction projects at Brokaw and Eastview are to move forward by their projected March starting date. The soonest a referendum could be placed on the ballot would be in the April 2017 election.
If the district were to issue non-referendum bonds, voters could still have their say, as state law allows for a referendum vote on the issuance of non-referendum bonds if 10 percent of district's 42,000 registered voters signed a petition requiring a referendum.
Board member Lauri Doyle asserted that issuing non-referendum bonds is perfectly legal, and if voters do not wish the district to do so, they have recourse through the petition.
O'Neil also argued he hasn't seen any real effort on the part of the School Board to make budget cuts that may aid the district in not taking on more debt. Fellow board member Jared Ploger disagreed.
"We have the lowest spending per pupil and spend less for teachers salaries (than other comparable nearby districts,) he said. "I don't see that there's plenty of room to cut ... I'd say to anyone out there that thinks there is room to cut to go into any of our buildings."
Board member Danielle Paul said the board has been discussing budget cuts, and she chided O'Neil for his absence from recent board meetings.
"I think you need come to every meeting, because this has been a regular topic of conversation," she said.
If the School Board were to issue the bonds, the owner of a $200,000 home in the district would see an average increase of about $24 in their tax bill over what they paid this year. The bond would be retired within five years.